23rd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister for Trade whether it is a fact that, since the introduction of import licensing, import licences have been issued to applicants who have not previously been engaged in the business of importing and that in some instances licences have been issued by ministerial direction and on a number of occasions against departmental advice. Will the Minister have a statement prepared giving the details of such cases and stating the reason in each instance for the departure from the normal practice?
– Dealing with the second part of the question first, I say that no licences have been issued by ministerial direction since I have been administering import licensing. As to the first part of the question - whether licences have been issued to people who have not previously been importers - in the administrative category it would be normal to issue a licence to a manufacturer who required components or raw materials. I have no doubt that that has been done many times but not where there are regular importers of the particular requirements of the manufacturer, importers from whom he could obtain his requirements. I think there may have been some cases - none that I can call to mind - of licences issued to people who previously had not been in the importing business, but none of these was issued by ministerial direction. I will have inquiries made and then I will make a clear statement on the matter.
– Is the Minister for Health able to inform the House what arrangements he is making with pharmaceutical chemists with regard to the proposed charge of 5s. for pharmaceutical benefit prescriptions? What steps is the Minister taking to inform the chemists of the Governments proposals?
– The honorable member will recall that the Treasurer, in his Budget speech, outlined certain proposals and also announced that discussions would take place between myself and the interested parties - the pharmaceutical chemists, the benefit organizations and so on. These discussions are at present taking place. There is an agreement between the Government and the pharmaceutical chemists as to the price the Government will pay for pharmaceutical benefits and this is subject to review and negotiation from time to time. I have recently met representatives of the Pharmaceutical Guild but this question of the price of pharmaceutical benefits was not discussed .at that meeting. The principal matter for discussion at the meeting was the proposed 5s. fee and the method of applying it. The guild submitted certain proposals which we discussed, and tentative agreement was reached between us. I asked the representatives of the guild whether they had further matters for discussion at the meeting and they replied, “ Not at this stage “. However, at the guild’s request I agreed to further negotiations taking place with regard to the pricing arrangements. In fact, since the meeting I have written to the federal president of the guild urging that these further discussions should take place without delay.
I may inform the honorable gentleman that within, I think, four days of the Treasurer’s announcement I met the president of the guild, explained the proposals to him in brief and arranged for a full scale discussion with members of the guild executive. That discussion, which is the discussion to which I have referred, took place a very short time later. It is perfectly plain, therefore, that almost as soon as the Treasurer made his announcement I approached the Pharmaceutical Guild, explained the proposals to it and placed it in possession of the full facts. As I have said, our discussions commenced almost immediately after the Treasurer’s announcement.
– I preface my question to the Minister for Social Services by stating that five weeks ago a pensioner from Queensland, who was then visiting Sydney, called to see me and complained that his pension had been stopped for over two years. I wrote to the Department of Social Services on 7th August and received replies dated 18th and 26th August. I had promised that pensioner that I would do the best that I could for him. He has now returned to Queensland. If I read to the Minister a letter-
– Order! The honorable member may direct a question. He must not give information.
– Last night, during the debate on the motion to adjourn, I tried to get the call so that 1 could say something about this matter, which is one of urgency because the man has not received a pension for two years.
– Order! The honorable member may exercise his right and direct his question to the Minister. He must not debate the matter.
– I shall direct my question to him now -
I refer to your personal representations-
– That is what the man has to say.
– Order! The honorable member will direct his question or resume his seat.
– This is my question. Is it possible for the Minister to make this man’s pension payable to him without his having to go to hospital? If you will allow me-
– Order! I call the Minister for Social Services.
- Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to answer a question addressed to me by the honorable member for West Sydney. In this particular instance I should have preferred that he had asked this question of me where I would have been in a position to answer it adequately. If the honorable member will see me this afternoon I shall give him an immediate answer. It is always possible to pay social service benefits to people who qualify for them wherever it is convenient for the beneficiary to receive the pension. I have no doubt that arrangements along those lines can be made in this particular case.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral, who is acting Minister for External Affairs, whether he is yet in a position to make a statement to the House on the situation in Laos in general and, in particular, on the extent of Australian diplomatic representation in Vientiane, the capital of Laos?
– I hope to obtain leave of the House to make a statement shortly with regard to Laos. As to Australian representation in Vientiane, I should say that at the time these troubles began representation in Saigon and Laos was in course of change, one officer returning and another going. The representative to Saigon arrived there as recently as 21st August last, but although his accreditation to Laos had not been completed he recently went to Vientiane and there took steps to obtain accommodation for a diplomatic secretary and a military attache. The diplomatic secretary is now there and the military attache is expected very shortly.
– I ask the acting Minister for External Affairs a question. Has his attention been directed to the action of the Egyptian Government in seizing mail and other goods consigned by persons living in Australia to people in Israel? If so, has any action been taken by the Australian Government to protect the interests of Australian nationals using the Suez Canal for the transit of goods and mail? If the attention of the Egyptian Government has been directed to the matter, has any satisfactory reply been received and have any steps been taken to prevent a similar occurrence in future?
– My attention was drawn to the incident and I have been following it closely. I am able to inform the House that eight bags of sea mail and a crate of scientific instruments were consigned from Australia to Israel. These were off-loaded by the sea captain in Egypt for transhipment to Israel. The material was not seized from the ship by Egypt but when the bags of sea mail and the crate of scientific instruments were placed in the Egyptian warehouses, the Egyptian Government took the view that Egypt should not allow itself to be used as a point of trans-shipment for sea mail or other goods consigned to Israel. Immediately on hearing of this the Commonwealth Government took action, through the officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department in the first place, and then through diplomatic channels - first through the Canadian Ambassador in Egypt, who represents our interests there at the moment, and later through New York. By means of these constant activities - and I may say that our efforts have been continuous - we have secured the concurrence of the Egyptian authorities in the handing over of the sea mail to the Canadian Ambassador. I understand that it is now in his possession and will be returned to Australia, which is what we wish. We have not yet secured the same result with regard to the crate of scientific instruments, but we confidently expect to do so.
– Are they Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization instruments?
– What future action will the Government take?
– 1 am asked whether anything was said about future action. I point out that the difficulty in this case arose out of the mistaken action of the sea captain in off-loading the mail and the instruments,
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral a question. In view of reports of overcrowding and inconvenience caused by general conditions at the Wedderburn Post Office, will the Postmaster-General seek a report on the possibility of erecting a new building to take the place of the old and very dilapidated present building?
– I remember that the condition of the Wedderburn Post Office building and the desirability of a replacement have been put to me by the honor able member and, I think, by his predecessor. We have gone into the matter several times in the Postmaster-General’s Department. I am not aware of the present position, because I have not yet had time to study our planning for new buildings in the current financial year, since we have not yet quite completed all the necessary preliminaries, having only just received the allocation for building works for the current financial year. However, I shall certainly find out from the department what is the latest planning with regard to this post office, and I shall let the honorable member have the information as soon as possible.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Trade. In view of the Minister’s statement that remarks made in Parliament by the honorable member for Yarra in respect of import licensing were defamatory and constituted an unjust attack on officers of the Import Licensing Branch of the Department of Trade, will the right honorable gentleman state whether he proposes to take any action against Mr. H. V. C. Thorby, a former member of this Parliament, a former Minister of the Crown and a prominent member of the political party to which the Minister himself belongs, in relation to public utterances which were couched in language much stronger than that used by the honorable member for Yarra? If no action is proposed, will the Minister explain the reason for his inaction and failure to seek legal protection for officers of the department who he contends have been wrongly accused of malpractice?
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. Is the Minister aware of the serious drought conditions in South Australia and in much of Victoria? Does he know that feed barley stocks in South Australia are expected to be exhausted in a few weeks’ time at the present rate of consumption? Does he think that sufficient stocks of wheat are held in these two States to enable any large quantity to be fed to sheep? In view of the large stocks of wheat in some States, and also overseas, does the Minister think that it would be good business on the part of the Government to encourage, by subsidy or extension of credit if necessary, the use of wheat as stock feed in order to prevent losses which otherwise may be disastrous, not only to the farmers, but also to our export income?
– I regret the seasonal conditions that prompt the question. I know that drought conditions exist in South Australia and in part of Victoria. With respect to stocks of wheat for fodder purposes, it is estimated that there will be a carry-over of about 66,000,000 bushels of wheat, including some stocks of flour, at the end of the current wheat season. About 4,500,000 bushels of this will be in South Australia, where stocks are almost depleted. Wheat sales are made under the terms of the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act, and I think the honorable member will recognize that the Australian Wheat Board is the authority that controls domestic sales. I understand that all f.a.q. wheat is sold at the one price. I shall consider the honorable member’s comments and discuss them with the board.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Labour and National Service a question. I refer to the unemployment figures for the month of August released by the Department of Labour and National Service only a few days ago, and I ask the Minister: Is he’ aware that the figure for August is still more than 1,000 above the high level reached during the recession year of 1952? Does the Minister suggest that a level of unemployment at which 60,000 people are without jobs is a matter for complacency on the part of the Government or the department? If he does not, will he inform the House what action is contemplated by the Government to relieve the situation?
– As is well known, the honorable member has frequently asked similar questions in this House. The policy of the Government, and, I believe, the policy of the Opposition, is perfectly clear. It is to sustain as high a level of employment in this country as is reasonably practicable. The figures for recent months have shown a consistent and significant improvement. The action taken by the Government this year in budgeting for a deficit of over £60,000,000 together with other factors will have the effect, I think, of increasing the demand for employees in this country. I think it was improper to make the charge of complacency. Full employment is something that this Government regards as an article of faith, and it does everything it can to sustain the highest practicable level of employment. I think you will find, Mr. Speaker, that in the months to come there will be a strengthening of the employment position. Far from having to worry about unemployment, I think the real problem that may be emerging is that we may have over-full employment by the flush months of this year, at least in some trades and industries.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. In view of the statement by the PostmasterGeneral that only 7 per cent, of internal mail now goes by air, and that the proposal to send most first-class letter mail by air will increase the Post Office losses by £1,500,000, will the Government consider postponing this alteration, with the consequent increase of the letter rate from 4d. to 5d., until after the committee which the Government has announced is to be appointed to investigate the finances of the Post Office has made its report?
– The Government gave full thought to this matter, and particularly to the effect which the existence and the work of the committee might have. After due consideration we decided to go ahead with the postal changes, in particular the ones referred to by the honorable member. I cannot, in these circumstances, undertake to have this matter reconsidered.
– I address a question to the Minister for Health. In view of the opinion of some members of the medical profession that no other drug has such a specific effect in the relief of arthritis and other similar illnesses as butazolidine, which was removed from the free list on 1st August, will the Minister consider restoring this drug to the free list for pensioners?
– I answered this question a few days ago, when it was asked by another honorable member. The question of what drugs shall be included in the list of pharmaceutical benefits is decided by an expert committee, and the Government invariably accepts the advice of this committee. In fact, the Minister has no power to place drugs on the list without a recommendation from the committee.
– I preface my question, which is addressed to the Minister for Air, by saying that it is proposed to hold an aerial pageant in Bert Hinkler’s home town, Bundaberg, in April or May next. In view of Bert Hinkler’s great achievements in aviation, will the Minister agree to arrange for a fly-past of aircraft of the Royal Australian Air Force during the pageant?
– I will gladly consider the honorable member’s request and bear in mind the association of Bundaberg with one of Australia’s greatest pioneers in aviation. I must tell the honorable member, however, that my department has a firm policy, which I support, not to allow the Air Force to be distracted from its primary and serious task by taking part in display flying, except during Air Force Week and in connexion with a few other events of wide national significance. The need for this policy is dictated by the enormous number of requests that are made to the Royal Australian Air Force to take part in displays of this sort, and it is against that policy that the honorable member’s request will have to be examined.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Army. Is it a fact that the National Service Training Scheme has cost £150,000,000 since 1949? Is it also a fact that the defence authorities regard the scheme as at present operated as extravagant, costly and futile? Further, is it a fact that the Government has decided, on the advice of the Minister, to abolish the scheme but that the announcement is to be delayed until the end of the year when Parliament is in recess, in order to prevent discussion and criticism?
– There are three questions involved and the answer to each of them is, “ No “.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he has seen the statement made this week by the chairman of the Australian Wool Bureau, Mr. Gunn, advocating the establishment in Australia of a wool futures market. Is he aware that a number of other graziers’ leaders also have advocated the greater use of wool futures as a means of reducing the violent fluctuations which occur in the price of wool? Is, it a fact that an application was made to the Government some months ago for permission to start a greasy wool futures market in Sydney, with nine original floor members? When is it expected that a decision will be made on this application?
– I have not seen the statement referred to by the honorable member, but, of course, I have heard a good deal about the topic. It has been partly discussed in the Cabinet and we adjourned our consideration in order to get certain further information. I do not expect any undue delay in reaching a conclusion.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Trade a question. In view of his statement that the outburst of criticism by Mr. H. V. C. Thorby, a former member of this Parliament and Minister of the Crown, at the annual conference of the New South Wales Branch of the Australian Country Party in 1957 in respect of the administration of import licensing was due to annoyance at the Minister’s rejection of a request to grant a. personal interview to an applicant for an import licence, will the Minister say whether it is a fact that, subsequent to Mr. Thorby’s attack, a licence was issued to the applicant for whom an interview had been sought and that this decision conforms to the general practice of granting licences in such cases to stultify any demand for an investigation of the administration, of import licensing?
– There is no substance in the suggestion at all. I said last night that Mr. Thorby made his outburst subsequent to my refusal to interview, in his company, an applicant for an import licence, and this was completely consistent with the practice that I have followed since I have had a responsibility in this field. But I make it clear that I have not infrequently interviewed applicants for import licences to describe the policy that applies, but not to discuss their own applications. Indeed, this afternoon I will have such an interview with a very big industrial organization to explain policy, but not to reach a decision on a particular application. I chose my words carefully last night. I am not in a position to say that Mr. Thorby made his outburst because I would not see his man, but I said that he made it subsequent to my refusal. Mr. Thorby is a distinguished leader of the Australian Country Party, but he is not notorious for the temperate character of his observations on a number of issues. In that, he has something in common with some of the honorable gentleman’s colleagues.
– Can the Minister for Trade provide me with any information about the Dutch trade mission which, I understand, is coming to Australia? When is it expected that this mission will arrive?
– I have learned that a mission described as a trade mission is coming from the Netherlands to visit Australia. It is not a government mission. I understand it is not sponsored by the Dutch Government; and it has not been invited by the Australian Government. It is a mission of Dutch businessmen who, no doubt, are coming to Australia to explore the field and perhaps try to write business. There is no question of the Government negotiating with these gentlemen at all but, as is our common practice, if they should feel that the Department of Trade can aid them in their investigation into commercial possibilities here, the services of the department will be readily at their disposal. As a matter of interest, the trade balance between the Netherlands and Australia is quite substantially in favour of the Netherlands. We will lose no opportunity to try to sell them more Australian goods.
– I direct a question without notice to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Has he paid any particular attention to the unhealthy sign in private employment opportunities that is shown by the fact that, in the full year from March, 1958, to March, 1959, only 4,300 additional jobs were created for males and 2,500 additional jobs for females, making a grand total of only 6,800 additional positions for the full year? Will the Minister inform the House of the exact added number of persons who would be available for employment over the period I have mentioned? Would not the total be something well in excess of 20,000 persons added to the Australian work force? In view of this position in private employment opportunities and the situation revealed in the Minister’s review of employment for September, which was issued in the past few days and showed a tendency towards reduced employment on some public works projects in the major States, related, I suggest, to the tapering off of employment as major works near completion, will the Minister cause his department to analyse quickly the immediate and long-range prospects of job opportunities in Australia rather than merely wait for the monthly reviews of employment that are issued by the department?
– The increase in private employment opportunities to which the honorable gentleman referred relates to only a segment of employment and not to the total employment figures for private industry, so I do not think that his figures can be taken as indicating the total increase in private employment opportunities in Australia. So far as long-range prospects are concerned, these are always investigated at the time of the Budget. The Department of Labour and National Service submits long-range estimates to me from time to time for consideration. That has been done recently, and personally I think that for at least a year ahead the prospects of increased employment and particularly the reduction in the number of persons seeking employment are good. If I may say so, I think they are very good indeed. Nonetheless, knowing the honorable gentleman’s real interest in this problem, I will have an analysis made, and if there is anything I can add to what I have already said I will inform him.
I should like to add this comment with reference to public employment: If the honorable gentleman looks at the increased amount of money made available for roads, the increased allocation of general revenue grants to the States and the increased allocations both for State public works and local government employment, I think he will find there will be increased opportunities for public employment in Australia during the course of the current financial year.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Defence. Did the Minister officially open certain buildings for the accommodation of army personnel at Puckapunyal in Victoria this week? What particular section of the Army will occupy these buildings? Are the great improvements that the buildings are said to encompass to set the standard of accommodation for service personnel throughout Australia?
– Yes, it is true that in conjunction with the Minister for the Army I performed the opening ceremony of the Kapyong barracks at Puckapunyal. It is to be the home of the permanent army brigade group and other permanent members of the armed forces. It is the best barracks that has been built for many years past, and it is hoped that this standard of accommodation may be continued throughout the services; but it has to be done according to the finances available. However, as to exact details regarding which units will occupy the barracks, I think that if the honorable member gets in touch with the Minister for the Army he would be able to obtain from that Minister a more precise reply than I could give him.
– I ask the Prime Minister, as acting Treasurer: Is it a fact that a total of approximately £200,000,000 has accumulated in the National Welfare Fund? In what form is this sum held? Finally, can these funds be made available for easing of the means test in respect of social service pensions?
– I should be very glad if the honorable member would put his question on the notice-paper, but I can assure him in advance that the answer to the third part of the question is clearly, “ No.”
– I should like to direct a question without notice to the Minister for Labour and National Service concerning the High Court judgment in the Hursey case. I see, Mr. Speaker, that there is a report that the Waterside Workers Federation is going to ask the Minister to amend the Stevedoring Industry Act as a result of this judgment. Has the Minister received such a request and, if so, has he considered what action he may take on it?
– I was informed on the telephone this morning that the Waterside Workers Federation will recommend to me that the Stevedoring Industry Act be ?. mended to provide that only those people who are trade unionists, or members of the Waterside Workers Federation, be granted employment on the Australian waterfront. I have just completed reading the judgment of Mr. Justice Fullagar in the Hursey case, but I have not yet been able to make up my mind as to what should be done and as to what recommendation I should make to the Cabinet. However, may I make one or two observations, Mr. Speaker, in which I think the House will be interested? The first is that in my view Mr. Justice Fullagar’s judgment is an historical document in that it traces the association of the trade union movement and the Australian Labour Party. It also examines in a way that I have not seen them examined before the judgments in the Osborne and Taff Vale cases, and explains the historical background and both the social and legal implications of levies for political purposes. I think that this document is so important that I shall try to have a resume made of it so that honorable members on both sides of the House may read it. As I said, I think it is an historical document.
May I make two comments on the suggestion of the Waterside Workers Federation that it should be given the sole right to supply labour - in other words, that there should be virtually compulsory unionism? The first is that the present act, which establishes the criterion for employment on the waterfront as registration with the Stevedoring Industry Authority and not continuous membership of the Waterside Workers Federation was, I think, passed by a Labour government, or at least the provision was in existence during the whole period of the Labour government’s term of office. So, Sir, it is a well-established legal principle that registration with the authority is the criterion, and not membership of the Waterside Workers Federation. Also, Sir, so far as the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority is concerned, I should mention too that the draft of the present order was submitted to the general secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation, who did not object to the clause relating to registration as the criterion. This practice, I may state, Sir, has been the practice since at least 1942, when Mr. Healy himself was a member of the stevedoring authority. This Government believes in unionism but it does not believe in compulsory unionism. I think that principle should be stated. Nonetheless, I will be examining the judgment closely. I will, of course, give careful attention to any recommendations made by the federation or by the Australian Council of Trade Unions. As soon as any decisions have been made I will let the House know.
– Will the Minister for Labour and National Service frankly admit that the main principle - the right to impose a levy for political purposes by vote of a trade union branch - has been upheld? Has not that foundational right been upheld by the High Court unanimously? Is it not a fact that the Minister, all through these proceedings, has disputed that right, and that nine-tenths of the trouble in the Hursey case has been due to the Government’s persistence in denying that right to impose a voluntary levy of 10s. - a trifling sum? As was pointed out in the judgment, that was largely responsible for the extension of this unfortunate and tragic dispute.
– So far as I am aware, although I will have to check this information, the Government has never said that it objected to contributions for political purposes being made by members of the trade union movement. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition who is interjecting will know only too well that my predecessor did not say that there was a fundamental objection to political levies. What has been asked is this: Should members of a trade union have the right to contract in or contract out? Certain other variations have also been suggested. I repeat, this Government has never expressed hostility to the basic principle of contributions being made by trade unionists for political purposes. The Government has considered the question of how the rights of trade union members should be protected if they feel that they do not want to make a contribution to a political party with which they disagree. That is the attitude that has been consistently taken by the Government and by my predecessor, the present Treasurer.
– Will the Minister for Immigration indicate the activities which will be undertaken in Australia to recognize the International Refugee Year? Are the plans for the International Refugee Year fully supported by the United Nations?
– The Government is fully sympathetic to the general plan for an International Refugee Year. Answering the second part of the honorable member’s question first, I may say that this whole idea was initiated by the United Kingdom at the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1958. The United Nations approved of it with the exception, one is sorry to recall, of the Soviet bloc which voted firmly against it. Some months ago, the Government made a grant of £50,000 as a contribution to the appeal in Australia for the world Refugee Year. In addition to that, as I have said on earlier occasions, the Government has agreed to take 60 “hardcore “, or “ difficult-to-resettle “, cases from refugee camps in Europe. These people are now being brought here and eighteen families have already arrived. In addition, in its 1959-60 programme, the Government has made provision for 3,000 refugees to come to Australia. Furthermore, in the case of refugees, we have abolished the normal visa fee of £1. The honorable member for Darling Downs might be interested to know that, in addition to the things that I have already mentioned, we are bringing 10 per cent.-
– I move that the Minister be given an extension of time.
– I should like to finish answering this question. I would think that honorable members opposite would be interested in such an important matter as the settlement of refugees.
– You are talking to the honorable member for Darling Downs. You are not telling us.
– You should listen. Ten per cent, of the immigrants whom we are bringing to Australia during 1959-60 under the Australian-West German agreement will be in the category of refugees. Finally - I think this will appeal to honorable members opposite who are raising captious cries, and I hope the House will approve - we are bringing ten Bulgarians from Greece who are also in the refugee category. So it can be said that, in an international setting, Australia is making a pretty comprehensive contribution to the International Refugee Year.
– by leave- Since the House last met there have been such significant developments in respect of Laos that a statement of the situation and of these developments may prove of value to honorable members. On the 4th September, the Royal Laotian Government exercised its undoubted right as a member of the United Nations to seek the assistance of the United Nations and made a particular request for the despatch of an emergency force to its country. In its request the Laotian Government stated -
Since 16th July, 1959, foreign troops have been crossing the frontier and engaging in actions against garrison units of the Royal Army stationed along the North Eastern frontier at Laos. These garrison units have been obliged to evacuate several posts and to engage in many actions in self-defence. It is obvious that these attacks would not have taken place if the attackers had not come from outside the country, and would not have continued if those attackers had not been receiving reinforcements and supplies of food and munitions from outside. The Royal Army suffered losses as a result of these attacks.
On 30th August a fresh attack more violent than the previous ones was launched against the posts of Muong Het and Xieng Kho. Elements from the Democratic Republic of North Viet Nam took part in the attack,, which was supported by artillery fire from the other side of the frontier.
In face of this flagrant aggression, for which the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam must bear the entire responsibility, Laos is requesting the assistance of the United Nations, of which it is a member, in accordance with Articles 1, paragraph 1, and 11, paragraph 2, of the Charter. In particular, the Royal Government requests the prompt despatch of an emergency force to halt aggression and to prevent it spreading.
Honorable members will recall that, in answer to questions in this House, I indicated on the 25th August that the Australian Government did not intend, itself, to bring the events in Laos before the United Nations, taking the view that the initiative in that respect should be left with the Laotian Government as a sovereign and independent power and itself a member of the United Nations. I also indicated that our Mission to the United Nations was keeping in close contact with the SecretaryGeneral and with the representatives of the Laotian Government in New York.
Upon receipt of the request of the Laotian Government, the SecretaryGeneral, who was in South America at the time, returned to New York and summoned a meeting of the Security Council. Immediately prior to the meeting, the Governments of France, the United Kingdom and the United States circulated a joint draft for a resolution which they indicated they would bring forward at the meeting. This resolution which was subsequently passed was in the following terms: -
The Security Council decides to appoint a subcommittee consisting of Argentina, Italy, Japan and Tunisia and instructs this sub-committee to examine the statements made before the Security Council concerning Laos, to receive further statements and documents, and to conduct such inquiries as it may determine necessary and to report to the Security Council as soon as possible.
The meeting of the council took place on 7th September. The Secretary-General had placed upon the provisional agenda the following item: -
Report of the Secretary-General on the letter received from the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Royal Government of Laos, transmitted by a Note from the Permanent Mission of Laos to the United Nations, 4th September, 1959.
– Is the report of the SecretaryGeneral available?
– I do not have it here, but I can get it. The U.S.S.R. opposed the inclusion of this item on the agenda of the council but failed to secure the support of any other member of the council for its opposition. The item was included in the agenda by ten votes to one. The view of the sponsoring powers that the proposed resolution related to a matter of procedure was contested by the representative of the U.S.S.R. who claimed that a matter of substance was involved and that therefore the resolution could not be carried without the concurrence of the five permanent members of the council. However, the council then decided by ten votes to one that the matter was procedural. Thus the resolution before the council could be carried by a vote of any seven members of the council. After the vote, the president of the council noted that this majority decision flowed from article 29 of the Charter under the heading of “ Procedure “. The resolution itself was then carried by ten votes to one, the U.S.S.R. alone voting against it. The U.S.S.R. then contended that the resolution was invalid - that being, as it claimed, subject to veto, it had been vetoed by the U.S.S.R.
The four countries nominated to the subcommittee - Argentina, Italy, Japan and Tunisia - have appointed senior diplomatic representatives to lead their delegations. These representatives have now arrived in Vientiane to begin their task. Honorable members will have noted from the nature of the resolution adopted that the subcommittee is charged with a mission of investigation and inquiry; it is not empowered to make recommendations of a substantive nature.
– There is nothing in your statement to show that. Where is the resolution?
– It is the one which was proposed and carried, and which I read a few moments ago. However, although the intervention of the United Nations is so far limited, the Australian Government hopes that it will assist in bringing about a cessation of the attacks on Laotian Government forces and centres of administration and in particular a termination of outside encouragement and support for the rebels. It is to be hoped also that the direct United Nations interest in Laos which the sub-committee expresses will help the Laotian Government to maintain its independence and its administrative authority throughout its territory.
Having said this, I must remind honorable members that much will depend on how the report of the sub-committee is received and handled in the Security Council. It would be idle to speculate about possibilities at this early stage, but we must keep in mind that the Soviet Union, having been frustrated in its initial attempts to block a United Nations investigation of the situation in Laos, undoubtedly retains the capacity to veto any substantive resolution which may be proposed in the council as a result of the present investigation. So far as the sub-committee itself is concerned, its members will need to decide for themselves what amount of time will be required for their investigation and the preparation of their report to the Security Council. No doubt the principal members of the national delegations will need to return to New York to be on hand when the Security Council considers their report. In such a case, circumstances may well require the designation of deputies of standing to remain in Laos or the establishment of some other means of demonstrating continuing interest and concern on the part of the international community.
It is proper that I say that the situation in the zone of hostilities in Laos has not always been easy to follow at a distance. It must be expected that the sub-committee will encounter the same difficulties as other observers in establishing the facts. One of the matters which, not unnaturally, is difficult to verify is the extent of North Vietnamese interference in Laos. That there is interference the Australian Government has no doubt. What requires continuing investigation is the degree to which military formations originating in North Viet Nam have taken part in the fighting against Laotian Government forces, and also the extent to which North Viet Nam has harboured, trained and provisioned Laotian Communist rebels for the purpose of promoting and sustaining insurgency in Laotian territory.
Among the obstacles to the effective investigation from Laotian territory alone of what is taking place are the mountainous and heavily covered nature of the terrain, the presence of hill tribes with close ethnic and linguistic affinities with other hill tribes within the borders of North Viet Nam and the absence of any well-developed road system from the administrative capital, Vientiane, into the area. In addition, the insurgents, who have the advantage of established communications between the North Eastern provinces and North Viet Nam, can be expected now to take particular care to conceal from the United Nations mission evidence of North Vietnamese forces operating in their support. Having regard to the nature of the country rendering air observation difficult, and to the rainy season which accentuates the difficulty, movement across the border may well elude observation.
It might be asked why it is that the Communist powers have opposed the intervention of the United Nations in the present situation in Laos and continue to press for the re-establishment of the International Commission which operated in Laos until July, 1958, pursuant to the Geneva Agreement of 1954. Before examining the question of the Geneva accords as they concerned Laos, I should like to make it clear that it is the Australian Government’s view that in appealing to the United Nations for help the Laotian Government has merely exercised the right which all nations have to invoke the provisions of the charter when they believe their security or independence to be threatened. It could not be held that this right was impaired in any way by the provisions of the Geneva Agreement.
I should like to remind honorable members that the character of the Geneva Agreement was essentially that of an agreement to bring about a cease-fire in Indo-China as between Communist (Viet Minh) controlled forces and the French Union forces. The Geneva accords set up international commissions, consisting of representatives of Canada, India and Poland, with India as chairman, to supervise the execution of the cease-fire provisions. These separate commissions, with appropriate staffs and differing tasks, were established in Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam.
In the case of Laos the terms of the cease-fire agreement provided for the regrouping of the Pathet Lao fighting units in the Laotian provinces of Phong Saly and Sam Neua “ pending a political settlement”. At that time these provinces were the principal areas where the Pathet Lao forces were operating against the French Union forces; at the time of the cease-fire the Pathet Lao forces were closely linked with the Viet Minh forces in North Viet Nam. In the event, the Pathet Lao after the cease-fire exploited their physical occupation of these two provinces and refused to hand over their control to the administration of the Laotian Government established at Vientiane. In November, 1957, after protracted negotiations, a political settlement as foreshadowed in the Geneva documents was reached between the Laotian Government and the Pathet Lao leaders. This provided on the one hand for the surrender of the provinces to the Government and on the other for the recognition of the Neo Lao Haksat - Laotian Patriotic Front - which was the political successor of the Pathet Lao, as an organization enjoying the same rights under Laotian law as other political organizations, for the inclusion of Pathet Lao representatives in a “ Government of National Union “, and for the integration of the Pathet Lao elements, within certain limits, into the national military forces and administration.
The Government of National Union was duly formed and as a result of supplementary elections conducted in May, 1958, by that Government the Neo Lao Haksat obtained representation in the National Assembly. However, in the period before the supplementary elections, the Neo Lao Haksat in its election campaign denounced the Government and its policies so directly and openly that continued co-operation between it and other political groups commanding majority support in the newly constituted government could no longer be sustained. In the event, a new government with majority support in the assembly, but not including representatives of the Neo Lao Haksat was formed with Mr. Phoui Sananikone as Prime Minister. Having concluded its agreement with the Pathet Lao and the supplementary elections of May, 1958, having been held, the Laotian Government took the view that the terms of the Geneva accords had been satisfactorily executed and that the functions of the International Commission in Laos had come to an end. It accordingly made a number of approaches to the commission requesting its withdrawal. On 19th July, 1958, with the Polish commissioner dissenting, the commission voted its own adjournment sine die.
In May, 1959, in pursuance of its agreement of November, 1957, with the Pathet Lao leaders, the Laotian Government took the final steps towards integrating two battalions of Pathet Lao troops into the Royal Laotian Army. However, one battalion refused to accept the terms of integration offered to it and subsequently broke away to an area in Eastern Laos adjacent to the border of North Viet Nam. The Government thereupon declared the members of the battalion to be deserters.
Hostilities commenced in mid-July in Sam Neua province when rebels captured a number of Government military posts. The fighting has also flared up in Phong Saly province and in areas in central and southern Laos. As honorable members know, it was the serious threat which the Laotian Government saw developing in Sam Neua province which prompted the Laotian appeal to the United Nations for an emergency force.
It might be asked why the Communists decided to resort to armed rebellion at this time. The full answer to this question must involve some speculation. That they desired ultimately to subvert the Government is clear. They may have assessed that their capacity to influence the domestic political situation was progressively diminishing, partly because of their exclusion from the Government, but perhaps more because of the energetic efforts made recently by the Laotian Government to improve the welfare of remoter rural communities from which the Pathet Lao had earlier drawn their main support. They may also have concluded that the development of Laotian relations with Western countries and the receipt of Western economic aid in particular would both help to consolidate the Government’s position in the electorate and improve its effectiveness.
Vigorous Laotian Government efforts to combat subversion have obviously also played a part in the Communist decision to resort to hostilities. These efforts no doubt prompted Communist propaganda that the Laotian Government is violating the spirit and letter of the agreement of November. 1957.
Capture in the first instance of the provinces of Phong Saly and Sam Neua has evidently appeared to the Communists as necessary to give them a base in Laotian territory from which to exert pressure, both physical and political, upon the Laotian Government. The object of such pressure would be to intimidate the Government from maintaining its present relations with the West and to force it to accept Communists in positions in government and in administration, from which posts subversion might be effectively resumed - and pursued, perhaps, to a successful conclusion without affording occasion for the intervention of the United Nations or any of its members to protect the established government of the country.
The Communist powers have maintained a propaganda campaign for the reinstitution of the International Commission in Laos. The recent resort to hostilities may be regarded as an attempt to prove to Laos itself, to the uncommitted powers, and to the West, that the only way of maintaining peaceful conditions in Laos is to restore the commission.
What are the reasons why the Communists want the commission back? One, no doubt, is that they want to reintroduce directly into Laos a Communist representative through the Polish member of the commission. Again, the Communists have failed to exploit the agreement of 1957 between the Government and the Pathet Lao leaders to their own advantage to the extent they may have hoped. They want now to create a fresh situation in which yet another settlement might be thought desirable and hope that the intervention of the International Commission would operate in favour of concessions to the Neo Lao Haksat and a restriction on the Government’s capacity to protect itself against Communist subversive activities.
The Laotian Government remains firmly opposed to the reconvening of the International Commission. It holds that it has fulfilled its obligations under the agreement, the execution of which the International Commission was established to supervise, and that the return of the commission would represent a withdrawal in the face of Communist threats, would infringe Laotian sovereignty, recognized amongst other ways by its membership since 1955 of the United Nations, and would impede the Government’s efforts to counter Communist subversion.
The Australian Government has consistently supported the Laotian Government’s attitude towards the exercise of its sovereign rights. We recognize the validity of Laotian objections to the reconvening of the International Commission and we believe that the Laotian Government should be supported as an independent government and that it should be encouraged and enabled to pursue the course which it had chosen for itself - namely, a course of neutrality combined with unwillingness to submit to Communist domination. Such a course is entirely in accord with the intentions of the Geneva settlement.
I should like there to be no misunderstanding in the minds of honorable members about the Government’s view of the desirability of Laos continuing to avoid military alignment with either the Communist bloc or the Western powers. That it should refrain from adopting such military alignments is in our view consistent, as I have said, with the intention of the Geneva settlement, with the need to avoid giving the powerful Communist States on its borders any opportunities for provocative activities, and thus with the best interests of Laos itself. Certainly, I believe that neither the Laotian Government nor any of its friends would wish to see the neutrality of Laos abandoned or modified. Likewise they want to see that neutrality respected.
But whatever limitations on its foreign relations may reasonably be held to derive from Laos’s adoption of a neutral status, there can be no doubt that Laos enjoys the same sovereign rights as other neutral powers, in particular the right to secure itself against any threat to its integrity, whether that threat derives from subversion, insurgency or from incursions into its territory by foreign powers. In addition, it has the right to accept military aid reasonably consistent with the defence needs of a country with powerful and aggressive neighbours to the east and north, and with a long and difficult frontier to police.
I do not think that a statement of this kind would be complete without some reference to the question of Seato’s interest in the situation in Laos. Laos is a State designated in the Protocol to the Manila Treaty. It therefore follows that the integrity and independence of this State are matters of interest and concern to Seato.
During the course of recent events in Laos, Australia and other Seato members have been in constant consultation and have remained watchful of the situation. At present the Australian Government does not see any active role for Seato apart from such observation of the situation and consultation about it. In particular, it considers that United Nations activities in Laos should be given every chance to succeed.
It is the Government’s hope that the despatch of the Security Council mission will be followed by effective and continuing action in the United Nations to ensure that the territorial integrity of Laos as a member of the United Nations is maintained, and that the legitimate government of that country is not subjected to outside interference or intimidation.
If for any reason United Nations action were not effective in preserving the integrity of Laos against indirect or direct aggression sponsored by the Communist bloc, Laos might appeal to Seato. In such an event, having regard to the fact that it functions as an instrument of collective self-defence, and to the fact that Laos is a Protocol State, there could be no doubt that Seato would take that course of action which is considered most suitable to meet the situation.
That situation has not yet arisen and Australia’s action in the United Nations will be directed to preventing it from arising. But this Government would not be justified in excluding the contingency from consideration and is not excluding it.
The Australian Government regards the events in Laos as of great importance to it and to the people of Australia. Not only would unchallenged Communist action in Laos bring new and grave dangers to the remaining free countries of South-East Asia, but the psychological effect of another government in this area becoming Communist dominated would be incalculable.
Having said this, I express the earnest hope of this Government that the intervention of the United Nations will lead to an early and stable solution of the present troubled situation in Laos. Honorable members and the Australian people may rest assured that die Government will bend its full efforts to assist the action of the United Nations to such a successful outcome.
– by leave - I wish to avoid traversing this question at anything like full length. The matter is a very important one, however, and I think something should be said immediately. Many of the officers of the Department of External Affairs are well acquainted with the procedures that can be adopted in matters such as this, but the new theory enunciated by the acting Minister for External Affairs (Sir Garfield Barwick) seems to be that if there is a situation involving fighting and loss of life - or possible loss of life - the Australian’ Government should leave it to the nation directly concerned to bring the matter to the attention of the United Nations. The truth of the matter is that every member nation has a right to bring such matters to the attention of the United Nations. That right has always been implicit in membership of the United Nations. It was so when Mr. Chifley was our Prime Minister, and I think that is the only worth-while policy.
I have asked this Government repeatedly to bring the Laos situation to the attention of the United Nations. Theoretically, Australia should have no interest in the matter except to bring conflict to an end, to save life and to avoid bloodshed. Any one of more than 80 nations could bring this matter forward. Instead of that we have this extraordinary procedure that has been referred to by the Minister, and it is impossible to tell from the statement what was the real request made by Laos. My understanding was that Laos asked for the prompt despatch of an emergency force to halt aggression and to prevent it from spreading. That is understandable. Laos had the right to make that request, but the procedure that followed was altogether wrong. That is well known to everybody, and it was denounced by the great Liberal newspaper of England, the Manchester “ Guardian “, in a leading article on 9th September. These matters are well known to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and to officials of our Department of External Affairs.
A country may bring a matter to the attention of the Security Council or the
General Assembly. In this case the Security Council was the authority invited to take action. However, the Security Council is always faced with the possibility that any one of the five nations comprising the council may veto any matter that is not merely a matter of procedure. Russia has that right, the United Kingdom has it, the United States has it, France has it and China has it. In the case of China that right of veto is held to-day by the Government of General Chiang Kai-shek. Any one of the five nations comprising the Security Council individually can veto any matter that is not merely a matter of procedure. Just look at the request! Laos asked for the prompt despatch of an emergency force to halt aggression and to prevent it from spreading. That was not a matter of procedure. It was a matter of extremely important substance and everybody advising the Minister should have been aware of that. Everybody at the United Nations must have known it. Mr. Plimsoll, our representative at the United Nations, must have known it, because he is involved in many of these cases. Then it was decided not to approach the Security Council because the Soviet Union would be able to veto the proposal. It was so obvious that the proposal would have been vetoed that they began to look around to see what other steps could be taken. Then they hit upon this device. The Security Council decided to appoint a special committee consisting of Argentina, Italy, Japan and Tunisia, and instructed the committee to examine the statements given before the Security Council concerning Laos. We do not know who made those statements - I presume it was the representative of Laos. The special committee was empowered to receive further statements and documents, to conduct such inquiries as it may think necessary, and to report to the Security Council as soon as possible.
I would regard that as a mandate to investigate the situation. I take it that the Minister agrees with me. If he agrees that the committee has a mandate and a duty to investigate, then we return to the point that in the Security Council any resolution to conduct such an investigation is subject to the veto power held by each of the five member nations. That power has been used over and over again. Because that veto power exists in the Security Council, nations do not take their cases to it. They take them to the General Assembly, where there is no power of veto. All matters are resolved by a majority of two-thirds, and no nation has the right to prevent the decision of the majority from prevailing.
The General Assembly can appoint, and has appointed, commissions of investigation. That was done with regard to the dispute between Greece on the one hand and Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia on the other hand with regard to the northern borders of Greece. When the matter was originally raised in the Security Council the Soviet Union exercised its right of veto. The matter was then taken before the General Assembly, and Australia played a leading part in the discussions that took place at the General Assembly, which decided to investigate the matter.
Why is this matter of Laos being dealt with in this way? It is sickening. I believe that the matter should have been brought before the United Nations at the appropriate level. If it was to be brought before the Security Council it should have been brought before the council for investigation. It is sheer humbug to say that it was a procedural matter. Investigation goes to the very merits of the case for intervention. The Charter of the United Nations prohibits aggression in any part of the world by any nation and the true facts of any matter can only be ascertained by appropriate investigation.
In a leading article headed “Circumventing the veto “, the Manchester “ Guardian “ has this to say about the matter -
It is good that a United Nations committee is to look for facts about the Laotian crisis . . .
I entirely and respectfully agree with that. That is what we want - to get the facts about this situation. What is the full truth of the matter? Nothing is better able to bring the facts to light than an investigation by a proper committee. The leading article in the “ Guardian “ continues - it is also good that the General Assembly -
The General Assembly, mark you - has so far been spared the necessity for a wrangling debate. Nevertheless, by its methods of achieving these benefits, the Security Council may have done to the United Nations harm that will long outlive the present troubles. In brief, the Western members (with a Western member in the chair) made a procedural matter of the policy they wanted, and so withdrew it from reach of the Soviet veto.
Further on, this leading article states -
On Monday the over-clever tactics of the Western members had the additional disadvantage of destroying any hope of help from the Soviet member in dealing with Laos; Mr. Sobolev was fighting not merely against a resolution to appoint a committee but also against a procedure that would permanently cripple him and his successors. Hie hope may have been dubious, and its sacrifice worth while: whether it was right to let go so lightly a major piece of United Nations machinery only time will show.
It is absolutely sickening to find that Australia takes a part in this and that the Minister attempts to justify it in this House. The matter was subject to the veto in the Security Council, and Russia exercised the veto. Those who were opposed to Russia then decided that this was not a substantive matter but a matter of procedure. It is not a matter of procedure, and that has been decided so often that I could take up half an hour in giving illustrations of that in relation to matters in which I myself took some direct part. I know the rulings thoroughly. This must be known in the Security Council, and it must be known in the Department of External Affairs. It was wrong to let the Minister, who cannot have had the experience of a matter so complex and so complicated as this, make a statement such as he has just made. It should not have been done.
That is the position. Fancy going through the farce of saying that the investigation was a matter of procedure when it was a matter of substance! The facts are to be investigated - the facts of aggression by armed force and of the very things which the Minister, in his statement, assumed will be proved or established. They may be proved. I have taken the view that there was a prima facie case for investigation, not because I had a pre-conceived idea of what the result would be, but because I saw bloodshed in the contest between the two nations. The United Nations Charter tells every member of the organization what should be done: There should be a reference to the United Nations and an attempt should be made to stop the firing at once. A cease-fire order always comes first, and an investigation follows later. This is part of the essential procedure in the Security Council and not merely a matter of form as opposed to procedure.
What we wanted has not been obtained at all. I do not know how this thing is going. I hope sincerely with the Minister that the “very fact that the United Nations has acted, even if improperly or wrongly, will stop the fighting. It may do so. It should do so. But it is important to realize that you cannot just tear up the Charter in this way without playing into the hands of those others who, perhaps, also want to tear it up. I can quite understand the protest, because nations which differ from us over this matter of veto naturally try to preserve their rights.
I want to say one thing more, Mr. Speaker. I believe that when the facts of the Laos matter are investigated they should be fully investigated, and I should like to read just a few sentences from an article published in the Adelaide “ News “ of 10th September, which states -
The other article in the same newspaper that is mentioned there is important. It presents one case. I do not say that it is correct, but it represents the charges made by an observer and a reporter in this newspaper, and I think that you will find plenty of instances in other newspapers in which these charges are repeated.
– Will the right honorable gentleman state the name of the observer?
– Certainly. He is Mr. Bruce Rothwell. The article which I have mentioned as being important is printed under the name “ Bruce Rothwell “, and the honorable member can see it for himself. What it states is important. These things should be ascertained.
I shall now return to the other article from which I was quoting, and repeat the last sentence that I read from it. That article states -
The fact-finders seem destined to discover inside Laos some awkward and sad facts, as the article on this spread suggests.
Behind the current eruption in Laos lies a fantastic regime of graft, waste and mismanagement and a tragic miscarriage of U.S. aid.
The report shows Laos, since it became “independent “ after the Indo-China war in 1955, has been kept by the U.S. in a manner to which it was unaccustomed. More millions of dollars were poured in than the economy could stand. Racketeering and inflation rampaged, and a few people became rich, but the two million people of Laos saw little of the U.S. aid.
In these corrupt conditions, is it a wonder Communist influence from within and without found a ready mark?
It is another salutary example of perversion of well-meant U.S. aid policy. To pour money indiscriminately into a frail and corruptible administration cannot strengthen it against communism.
I shall not go into Mr. Rothwell’s article fully. Details of these things are given in it, and there are many other references in current notes on Laos. The facts must be ascertained. They should be ascertained by a tribunal that will not hesitate to investigate the facts in order that the United Nations may have before it the whole position, always remembering that the first duty of the United Nations is to stop the fighting - to order a cease-fire. The investigation can come later. The thing to do is to stop the firing - to have a cease-fire order made and observed. If that is attempted through the Security Council, undoubtedy you cannot override the veto. But the same powers that the council has in relation to cease-fire and investigation are possessed also by the General Assembly, in which there are more than 80 members, and in which, over and over again, the Security Council veto has been avoided in a correct and constitutional manner.
Those are a few aspects of the matter that I think are important, Sir. 1 particularly wish to ask the Minister to look at this question of procedure, to examine carefully what advice has been received from Australian representatives in respect of this matter, and to tell the House at the appropriate time whether the procedure is correct or incorrect, so that the House can, if necessary, have a full debate. I want to do what 1 proposed when this matter was first initiated - stop the fighting. I want to have a cease-fire ordered and observed quickly. Then, if necessary, an investigation can be made. It is wrong for the Government to let the thing go on and to say, “That is a matter for the Laotian Government “. I say that it is not; it is a matter for every government in the world which wishes to do its duty to other members of the United Nations through the Charter by exercising its power to bring the matter to the attention of the General Assembly or the Security Council. If that were not done, conflicts could spread, and, often, situations could get out of hand through that delay. These are procedural matters in one sense, but they are vital matters, and I felt that it was my duty, Sir, not to let this important statement by the Minister pass without stating my opinions of it at this stage.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Dr. Donald Cameron) read a first time.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Hulme) read a first time.
Debate resumed from 16th September (vide page 1097), on motion by Mr. Davidson -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The title of this bill is rather a misnomer. It is called the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill, but I think the title should have included some reference to telephones, because I believe that telephone charges figure prominently in the steep increases that are to take place.
I repeat what I said during the Budget debate: I consider that the postal slug being inflicted on the people is quite unnecessary. In this regard I agree with the remarks made by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) when he opened the debate from the Opposition side. As I said in my speech during the Budget debate, on the one hand the Government is granting taxation reductions to the extent of £25,000,000, while on the other hand it is re-imposing the burden by way of increased postal charges amounting to £17,000,000. I repeat that it would have been better if the Government had done neither of these things. The nation would have been better off if there had been no reduction in taxation and no increase in postal charges. As income tax is a direct tax, it would have been better not to have reduced it, and then the Government would not have had to use the Post Office as a taxing machine. These increased postal charges are merely another indirect tax, and I am certain that the Post Office administration is not in favour of them. The workers already have sufficient indirect taxes to pay, with £150,000,000 in sales tax and about £230,000,000 in excise duty on tobacco, beer and other commodities. These increased charges simply constitute another slug of a similar kind.
If I were to repeat in this House all the severe criticism I have heard outside among the common people about this imposition, I would certainly make a slashing speech, but I do not intend to do this. I will make some observations and some criticisms of the administration of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, and I hope they will be accepted as constructive suggestions. I will refer briefly to what the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) said on this matter. I might just as well refer to that as to what the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) said, because he merely repeated what the Treasurer said. As the honorable member for Melbourne Ports pointed out, this is the Treasurer’s imposition, and not that of the Postmaster-General. The Treasurer said in his Budget speech, when speaking of the Post Office -
We all know it to be a highly competent organization - efficiently managed, devoted to the services of the public, progressive in its outlook, eager to meet the ever-increasing demands upon it for wider and better facilities. It has had notable success in this; it has made really great headway in providing Australia with an adequate and up-to-date communications system.
I disagree with both those contentions. J maintain that the postal service is inadequate, and I will give facts and figures as they apply to my own electorate. I know that what I can say with regard to my electorate can be said by other honorable members with respect to theirs. I contend that our communications system is not up to date. It is carried on in many places in tin sheds. In some cases official post offices are conducted in cottages and in rented buildings that are by no means up to date. The Treasurer also said -
Since 1945, the Government has provided some £400,000,000 for new buildings and equipment. Each year the requirement has tended to grow. All told, capital provision for the Post Office this year is close upon £50,000,000.
Of course, it is now intended to operate the Post Office like a private business enterprise. The Government gives as a reason for imposing the extra charges the fact that it intends to cover capital investment in the Post Office. For this purpose it will make charges in the same way as private enterprise makes charges. I take it that ir £400,000,000 is invested in the Post Office, the charges to be made will be sufficient not only to cover the capital investment, but also to provide for an interest charge, which will be paid into Consolidated Revenue, i disagree with this practice. The Treasurer went on to say: -
There is room for difference of opinion as to what the true capitalization of the Post Office should be in accounting terms, and so that the Government may have the best advice on that and other outstanding questions, we have recently decided to appoint a committee of competent outside people to study and report upon the basis on which the commercial accounts of the Post Office should be prepared.
I am all in favour of this, provided that the right people are appointed to the committee and that the committee-is given terms of reference wide enough to allow it to investigate matters that should be investigated. I shall refer to this matter again later.
I believe that in the accounts of the Postmaster-General’s Department amounts are being wrongly debited against the Post Office for work that it undertakes for other departments. The Post Office is being underpaid for the immense range of services that it provides for other Government departments. I should like to refer briefly to the last annual report of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department that has been made available to honorable members. We received this report last February, seven months after the end of the financial year. We are now discussing a very important matter, the imposition of £17,500,000 in indirect taxation by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, and I believe that in order to consider these matters properly we should have an up-to-date report of the department. However, we have not got i* and we do not know exactly what the financial position of the department is at. the present time. The Government has. decided to set up a committee to investigate the accounts of the department, and I believe that these new impositions could well be postponed until after we have received the annual report of the department and the report of the proposed committee. Then we could see the true position.
– The Government is prejudging the matter.
– That is so, it is prejudging the matter. On the face of the financial position of the Postmaster-General’s Department, there does not appear to be any immediate necessity for the proposed increases. The Postmaster-General’s Department made a profit last year of £4,000,000 and in the previous year of £3,000,000.
– Where does that go?
– I know that it goes into Consolidated Revenue and I do not altogether agree with that practice. Since its inception, the Post Office has made large profits over the years, and, according to the last two annual reports of the PostmasterGeneral, it is still making them. Those profits should go to the credit of the Postmaster-General’s Department, which should be allowed to develop in somewhat the same manner as the Commonwealth Bank and Trans-Australia Airlines have developed. Those two organizations plough their profits back into their own activities and develop under their own power.
The Postmaster-General’s Department does not receive the same treatment as do other Commonwealth departments. To some extent, it carries other departments too much. I do not think that any other department pays the contribution to the Superannuation Fund that it should. T notice in the Postmaster-General’s report that last year his department paid £4.500.000 as its share to the Superannuation Fund. It is bound to do so under the act, but I doubt whether any other department does so. They are not earning departments, but nevertheless I feel that the Postmaster-General’s accounts and costs should be treated in the same way as the accounts of other departments are treated.
I wish to refer to the work that the Post Office does for many other departments. lt is right that it should do this work, because the Post Office is a very efficient organization and its officers are sufficiently skilled to carry out the duties of any other department. However, they should be properly paid for the work that they do. The Post Office is underpaid for the services that it renders to other departments. In answer to a recent question, the Postmaster-General said that the commission paid to the Post Office for the work it does for other departments is a little over £1,000,000. If the payment were properly assessed, it would run into many millions of pounds. The Post Office pays age and invalid pensions, wife’s allowances, widows’ pensions, repatriation pensions to burnt-out ex-servicemen, compassionate allowances, special pensions, allotments on behalf of the Navy, Army and Air Force, and child endowment. It makes 65,000,000 payments each year in respect of child endowment and 35,000,000 pension payments. Those figures, of course, are approximate, and are apart from the transactions on behalf of the Navy, Army and Air Force. On behalf of other departments, the Post Office makes some millions of payments each year, and in some instances, each week, and these payments total about £253.000,000.
Another factor involved in paying this immense amount of money is the accounting. In the main, senior officers of the Post Office are engaged on this work. It is regarded as high class work in the Post Office and for that reason senior officers usually deal with it. Any Thursday, a queue of people can be seen at post offices where payments are made. Millions of payments are made involving millions of pounds, and thousands of post offices all over Australia are engaged on this work every fortnight or every week. If the rate of payment for this work were properly assessed, the PostmasterGeneral’s Department would receive much more credit than it now does. I know that these payments all come out of the same purse, but it is right and proper that the Postmaster-General’s Department should receive appropriate payment tor the work that it does.
Figures I obtained from the PostmasterGeneral show that the Department of
Social Services pays the Postal Department £185,000 a year for work done on its behalf. 1 am certain that that is very much less than it should be. The actual paying of the money is not the only work involved; there is also the bookkeeping. The postmaster is involved in his daily accounts and up-to-date records of the payments must be kept. The Postmaster-General’s Department is involved in this work every day. I hope that the committee will look at this matter. I know that the Public Accounts Committee did so, but it did not go into the matter thoroughly, and an adjustment should be made as early as possible.
In the limited time available to me, I should like to refer to another matter, and that is the amount of work done by private contractors for the Postmaster-General’s Department. The postal officers are welltrained and can do every class of work required of them. I do not think that any other group of workers more competent and efficient than the postal workers can be found. It is wrong that work that could be done in the Post Office is being done by outside bodies. The union drew the attention of the Postmaster-General to the fact that it did not like this work being done by outside bodies. The PostmasterGeneral’s reply to their representations was -
T am well aware of the excellent work undertaken in these Workshops . . .
Reference had been made to the work done in the Postmaster-General’s workshops in Sydney and Melbourne - . . during the war years and of the efficiency of the organization which has since been developed and which has resulted in the economic manufacture of large quantities of material required for the operations of my Department.
I am, however, also aware that during recent months there has been a decline in the number of orders for manufacturing work placed on these’ Workshops but, as you probably also know, it has been necessary for my Department to limit the ordering of materials generally consequent upon a restricted programme of works and having regard to existing stocks of material and financial limitations on further purchases. As the result, orders on outside contractors have been substantially reduced, as well as those on Departmental Workshops. the importance of these Workshops to the Department and to the Nation is fully recognized by my Department and I would assure you that there is no intention to change the policy which has been in operation during recent years or to restrict the activities of these Workshops beyond the limits demanded by the exigencies of the situation existing from time to time and the needs of my Department
The union understands that an instruction was recently issued by the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs in these terms -
Workshops should not enter into competition with Outside Firms for items which could be obtained from them at a satisfactory price and within a reasonable period. The workshops should not be built up unnecessarily and thenactivities should be restricted as far as possible to jobbing and maintenance works which could not be performed by private firms. 1 shall give to the House a comparison of the prices although I will not quote the names of the firms concerned. These figures show the cost of making various articles and types of equipment inside and outside the Postal Department workshops. The manufacture of protective apparel by private industry costs £1 6s. 9d. for 100 compared with £1 in the workshops. The charge for a letter receiver is £4 12s. 6d. by outside contractors and £2 13s. in the workshops. Private box receivers cost £1 lis. 9d. outside and £1 9s. in the workshops. The difference in cost for other letter receivers is £2 lis. 6d. outside and £2 Ils. in the workshops. Private contractors make larger letter receivers for £10 17s. 6d. but the workshops make them for £9 4s. 7d. It is evident that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is pursuing a policy favouring outside contractors, not of its own desire but on instructions from the Government, because it is the Government’s policy to do so even though the outside prices are higher. The unions have rightly complained about this practice, and I have other letters to prove this. In my opinion, the Postal Department should not let contracts to outside bodies when the work can be done better and more cheaply in the departmental workshops.
I turn now to the proposed increased postal, telephone and telegraph charges. The Treasurer and the Postmaster-General tried to justify the increase in postal charges by saying that the mails would be carried by air, but the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) pointed out this morning that only 7 per cent, of mail is carried by air at present. There is no justification for the claim that the people will get a faster service for the increased charges. There is very little inter-town air-mail service in the Australian
States. That service is conducted mainly between the big cities. Certainly there is no aiT-mail service within the suburbs. Queensland might benefit mostly from this new arrangement, and I do not begrudge that advantage to that State. Generally, however, the increases are being made under false pretences.
I invite honorable members to consider the increases in the charges for registered articles. There is evidence that not much protection is afforded these articles in transit. At one time, there was point to point conveyance of registered letters and there was a record of who handled the articles, but that is not the case to-day. The fee for the registered service is to be increased from ls. 3d. to 2s., but the service is not as good as it was and the proposed charge is excessive. The charge for money order business is to be increased from ls. to ls. 3d. for the first £5 transmitted, and 9d. will be charged for each additional £5. A person who sends £10 by money order will have to pay 2s. besides postage. That charge is also excessive. A cheque can be sent in suburban areas free of exchange, and at an exchange rate of only 6d. between towns that are close together.
The telegraph branch of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department has been priced out of existence. Charges for telegrams are beyond the financial capacity of the ordinary person. A charge of 2s. 9d. is made to send twelve words by telegram within a radius of 15 miles, including the address and the signature of the sender. It is not possible to send much information in twelve words. The average number of words in a telegram would be twenty, and that would cost 4s. 9d. which is excessive. If you want to send such a telegram urgently, the charge is twice as much, that is, 9s. 6d.; and a reply-paid telegram sent urgently would cost 19s. It would be cheaper to hire a taxi and convey the message personally.
Telephone rentals are excessive, and the increased charges that are proposed will put telephones beyond the reach of many persons who need this service. From time to time, the department has been asked to make concessions in telephone charges for necessitous cases. It is done in the case of radio licences, and the same principle should be applied to telephone services. An invalid pensioner or a blind person who is unable to work cannot afford a telephone service in the metropolitan area. The rental is £14 a year in addition to the installation charge of £10. An applicant for a telephone will have to lodge £17 with the application. No pensioner can afford that amount. The charge for unit calls is to be increased from 3d. to 4d. which is a rise of 25 per cent. Some concession should be made for persons such as those I have mentioned.
Other proposed charges appear to me to be completely out of order. The standard type of telephone table set is black. If a subscriber wants a coloured set, he has to pay £2 5s. extra, not in one payment, but in yearly rental. That is an exorbitant charge for a coloured set which might be desirable to fit in with a domestic colour scheme. A flat rate should be charged for any colour. If a subscriber wants a portable telephone, an extra jack in the bedroom costs 10s. a year. Two points cost 16s. For the installation of two jacks the subscriber has to pay an extra 16s. a year. When the electricity authorities install an extra power point the householder pays £2 for the work and that is that. He does not have to pay £2 rent for it every year. Post Office charges should be based on the same principle.
There are many other matters with which I should like to deal in respect of the inadequacies of the postal services in my area, but I shall have to leave that to another time. In my electorate there are about 2,000 people waiting for telephones, and it seems that they will have to wait for another two years before they get them. My electorate is a fast-growing area commercially, industrially and residentially, and I think that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department should-
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The attack by the Labour Opposition is against the amended charges provided for in the bill. The charges are not to be increased in all cases; there are to be some reductions. Honorable gentlemen opposite object to the Post Office being run on a commercial basis. Until this debate I did not know that the Labour Party had changed its attitude towards how the Commonwealth’s business undertakings should be conducted. I remind honorable members that on 30th June, 1949, when a similar measure was being debated, the the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is Deputy Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition in this House, and who had introduced that measure, said, as reported in “Hansard”, volume 203, at page 1815, in answer to an interjection by a member of the then Opposition -
Well, a Government enterprise ought to pay its way. No one would suggest that a commercial undertaking should be operated on unbusinesslike lines.
Yet, to-day, when this Government proposes to increase some charges in order to give the Post Office the additional revenue necessary to meet the cost of some most extensive works, the Labour Party is opposing the proposals. I shall deal with that aspect later.
In opening the debate on behalf of the Opposition on Tuesday night the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) said very early in his remarks that it seemed to be the Government’s intention that- after 59 years’ existence the Post
Office, which was regarded previously as a great public utility, should be regarded in future as a private enterprise business undertaking which should earn a profit on’ the capital sums that have been invested in it.
That remark appears at page 996 of Tuesday’s “ Hansard “. But when the same honorable gentleman was a member of the Public Accounts Committee, he had this to say, as reported at page 170 of the minutes in the Twelfth Report of the Public Accounts Committee, which dealt with the Postmaster-General’s Department -
I think the basic philosophy of governments in Australia, both Labour and Liberal, has been roughly-
I interpolate here to say that I do not know what he means by “ roughly “ - that the Post Office has to pay its way on an overall basis.
Line that statement up with the remarks of the honorable member for Melbourne in 1949 that no undertaking should be conducted on unbusinesslike lines. I think that in making the two differing statements - one in the House on Tuesday night and the other to the Public Accounts Committee - the honorable member for Melbourne Ports has left matters so that he can have two bob each way. I wonder whether he is related to a Melbourne jockey who used to be known as “Last Race “ Smith, or whatever his surname happened to be. The honorable member, in offering his opinion on how the Post Office should be conducted, has left himself plenty of room to escape.
I hope that members of the Parliament and the people will realize that the line adopted by the honorable gentleman on Tuesday night was that no moneys coming from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for developmental purposes should carry any proportion of interest. That has been the line sustained by the Opposition ever since this Government saw fit to vacate the loan field in favour of State requirements for public works. If honorable members opposite continue with this suggestion, and manage to put it over on the people, what is going to be the ultimate position of the State parliaments? If any wise Premier thought that he could get more money from Commonwealth Consolidated Revenue for developmental works, without having to pay interest on it, he would advise the people of his State - he would be bound to do so if he were looking after their interests - not to invest in any Commonwealth loan.
And there the pattern unveils itself! The Labour Party wants unification so that State governments will become mere puppets in the hands of a central government. I warn not only members of this Parliament, but also the people of Australia, that this is a deep-laid plot, and if honorable members opposite get away with it they will have achieved their objective. I am not going to bother any further with that matter, however. I return instead to what was said in 1949 in relation to the similar measure then before the Parliament.
In the present case the overall increase in revenue from these charges is to be about 141/2 per cent. Some of the necessity for that increase, Mr. Deputy Speaker, arises from the fact that since 1951 basic wage increases have added more than £22,000,000 to the yearly cost of operating the services provided by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. It is rather strange that when the honorable member for Melbourne was piloting similar legislation through the House in 1949 he had this to say, as reported in “ Hansard “, volume 202 at page 1195 -
The combined additional revenue which it is expected will be received from the revised postal, telephone and telegraph charges is in the order of £5,500,000 yearly, this representing a net increase of about 16 per cent, in the total earnings of the Postal Department.
Now, listen to this! He continued -
It will be agreed that this is a moderate increase, bearing in mind the steep rise in costs of labour and commodities . . .
Later, when replying to the debate, he said, as reported in “ Hansard “, volume 203, at page 1818, in referring to postal charges -
The wonder is that they have been kept so low.
I want to remind honorable members that on that occasion, when the Labour Party saw fit to increase revenue by 16 per cent., wage-pegging was in operation. It was not revoked until December, 1949. Price controls had also been operating until 1948, and only cost of living adjustments were being made by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. So perhaps the increases now proposed are not so severe as honorable members opposite try to represent, although I admit that in some instances they are quite considerable. The fact is, however, that if we are to have the efficient service which we know we can get, and which we know the members of the staff of the Postmaster-General’s Department desire to provide, we must, in some way or other, give the department the wherewithal to carry its proposals to fruition.
I want to deal with some other matters raised by honorable members in the debate. We have faced considerable increases in costs during the last few years, and it is time that we took stock and made some necessary adjustments. The honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) and other honorable members have criticized the Postmaster-General’s Department for not charging other departments appropriately for the work that it performs for them. I tried to find out, by interjection, whether the honorable member for Banks wanted the rates of commission increased. He did not answer me directly, but he implied that there should be an increase in the rate of commission charged by the Post Office for work it does for other departments. I always understood that the Labour Party was against that and wanted to keep those rates as low as possible. I am assured by officials of the Postmaster-General’s Department that as a result of the increased business that they handle for other departments the return is sufficient to meet the extra costs, even at the existing rates of commission.
– They could handle less business.
– Are you in favour of reducing pensions? Are you in favour of reducing repatriation benefits? They are the things that the Postmaster-General’s Department handles. If there is an increase in the amounts paid to these people, obviously, the value of the business transacted by the Postal Department for other departments will increase. I am glad to hear what the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) has said. I will keep it for future reference. It will come in handy.
There has been criticism by members of the Opposition of the non-availability of the annual report of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Let us admit that it is not easy to get reports from the six States and collate them in Canberra within a month or so of the end of the financial year. But I remind honorable members that when Labour was in office which, thank God, was as far back as 1949, and proposed increases in postal charges, the Postmaster-General’s report for 1947-48 had not been presented to members of this Parliament and it did not arrive, I think, until 1st August, 1949.
Members of the Opposition are defeating themselves all the time. On the one hand, they say that we must keep this charge and that charge down; but as soon as it suits their book to advocate something else, they are quite prepared to put all their principles aside. They are quite prepared to advocate increased rates for other departments.
– It is humbug.
– It is humbugunadulterated.
– You are defeating yourself.
– I am not defeating myself in this regard.
Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Bowden).
Order! The honorable member for Canning will address the Chair.
– Reference has been made to the commercial accounts of the Post Office. I think that we are all agreed that it is a wise move on the part of the Government to set up a committee to inquire into the accounts of the Post Office in their relationship to the Treasury so that once and for all this matter can be determined. If the committee’s report is ignored by the Government, the Opposition if it has any life in it at all will be able to keep advocating discussion of it so that the matter will be finished with, once and for all.
– It will be a hand-picked, whitewashing committee.
– We will see what happens.
– It will not settle the problem once and for all, either.
– When Labour gets its opportunity - in twenty years’ time perhaps - it can set up another committee. But rest in patience because it will be twenty years before Labour is returned to office.
I want now to deal with some of the increases in postal rates. There has been a lot of talk about the sending of Christmas cards and other greeting cards. I admit, frankly, that the cost of posting those cards in sealed envelopes will increase from 4d. to 5d. I admit, too, that a lot of these cards have been sent in unsealed envelopes for 3id. But I wonder how many members of the Labour Party and of the general public realize that by writing more than five words on a Christmas card that is despatched in an unsealed envelope they are contravening the postal regulations and could be asked to pay the full postage.
The bill proposes that the airmail services shall be available within Australia at a charge of 5d. a letter. That will be a tremendous benefit for a lot of people. In considering postal services and charges, it is no good picking out all the good points or all the bad points. In any adjustment of rates some people will be hurt and others will benefit, but these proposals will be to the general benefit of the majority of the people of Australia. Commencing from 1st October, the rate on an airmail letter will be reduced. At present there is a surcharge of 3d. on the first half-ounce and on every other half-ounce. From the first of next month it will be 3d. for the first ounce.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting I was dealing with the adjustment of airmail charges. I pointed out that from the first of next month there will be a reduction in airmail rates because the surcharge of 3d. per half oz. will be removed and the rate of 3d. per oz. will apply. Following that initial period, any one who uses the air mail, or any other type of letter postage, will pay 5d. per oz. I showed that, in the past, letters sent by airmail which weighed a fraction of an ounce over half an ounce would cost lOd. Now, as a result of the removal of this surcharge, the rate for such a letter will be 5d. Many people who use the postal services will derive undoubted benefit from this new arrangement. No honorable member has mentioned that fact so far. The general trend of the debate has been devoted to charges which might be applied to local letters.
Yesterday, the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) said that the concession in airmail postal rates might affect railway finances. No one would deny that, but it must be remembered that when moves for progress are made in any direction some sections of the community are likely to suffer. According to my reckoning, the railway losses would be no greater than 5 per cent. That would be approximately £70,000 in an annual income for the railway systems of Australia of £1,283,887. That might be regarded very seriously in railway circles, but when fast, modern airmail services are available it is only reasonable that they should be used. Turning to the rates of postage on second-class mail matter, few honorable members, and few people outside the Parliament, have given credit to the Postmaster-General’s Department for the fact that there will be a reduction in the postage on items such as commercial papers, printed matter, pattern samples and merchandise. In the whole of this category of postal articles there will be a reduction in rates. The only honorable member who, to my knowledge, referred to this fact was the honorable member for Chisholm.
The subject which has occupied most of the time in this debate has been bulk postage rates. I want to begin my comments on this by saying that when the Australian Labour Party dealt with this matter on the last occasion that it had the opportunity of doing so, the increases it made were vastly different from those proposed by this Government in this bill, or those which were made in 1951. On the contrary, the Labour Government increased the rates on bulk postage by 108 per cent. The increase proposed in this measure is 33i per cent. Incidentally, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) told the Parliament, it will not come into operation until 1st May next year. Some members have taken the Postal Department to task on its handling of bulk postages, more or less implying that the estimate of the average cost in handling these articles is not 6d. each. I wonder if those honorable members have forgotten the costs involved in the various activities such as sorting, tying in bundles, despatch, bulk handling to and from transport, internal circulation in the office of delivery, setting up of postmen’s delivery rounds and the cost of conveyance from one post office to another. It seems that these matters have been completely ignored. Up to the present time the Government has been subsidizing bulk postage rates, but it is now proposed to reduce that subsidy by something like 10 per cent, to 4id.
But regardless of this, members of this Parliament and people outside have been quoting from letters statements which are not correct. When any one has endeavoured to ascertain, by interjection, the date of these letters the matter has been completely dropped. Those who have quoted these statements have completely sidestepped their responsibility. That sort of line was followed by the honorable members for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) and Fremantle (Mr. Beazley). I was both disappointed and surprised at the attitude of the lastnamed member. He was upset by the Postmaster-General during his speech, when, the night before last he then accused the Postmaster-General of using deceit. I shall read his actual words as they appear on page 1017 of the current “ Hansard “. He said -
A point about your proposals also is that they are presented with a fair amount of deceit. 1 take strong exception to the use of those words, particularly by the gentleman from Fremantle. He himself quoted from a letter which was completely out-dated. As a student of politics we give the honorable member a certain amount of respect. He was quoting from a letter dealing with the postage on books, not the proposed alteration of charges contained in this bill. He knows, as well as any member of this Parliament and perhaps much better than most, that the cost of posting overseas books was adjusted. Instead of it being 2s. 2d. for a book weighing 1 lb. it was brought down to ls. 2d. Again I say that I regret that the honorable member expressed himself in that way. I was completely surprised, knowing the code which the honorable member has adopted, that he should use such tactics in this Parliament.
I do not worry much about publications, but I wish to direct the attention of the House to an article which appeared in the “ Yass Tribune “ dated Monday, 14th September - that is Monday of this week, long after the latest proposals concerning bulk postage had been stated in this Parliament. The editor of that paper, or whoever was responsible for the article, wrote a paragraph which appeared in heavy black type stating- -
The Commonwealth Government, in addition to general postages for letters, has decided to increase bulk postage rates for newspapers by 100 per cent, from 2id. for 8 ounces to Sd. for each 8 ounces.
That is a deliberate lie. It is misrepresentation of the worst kind. Like members of the Opposition, who have quoted from letters or articles which suggest that the postage on an Australian book weighing 1 lb. will be raised from 6id. to lOd. and that on overseas books from 9id. to 2s. 2d., this publication follows the same line. But everybody knows that that is a deliberate misrepresentation. Newspapers are given a responsibility - and in many cases in this respect a great deal of credit which they do not deserve - to play a significant part in moulding public opinion. The publication of that statement on 14th September, which, as I have said was only
Monday of this week, is little short of audacity. It was completely wrong.
If, in dealing with bulk postage rates, honorable members would take the trouble to examine the facts and figures contained in the statement published by the PostmasterGeneral giving further information on the proposals of this bill they would find a different story. Any businessman - and I would expect a publisher to be a businessman - would find that the increase involved, at the rate of 5d. for each 12 oz., for a weekly publication weighing 1 oz. would be 5d. per annum. For a rag such as the “ Yass Tribune “ - which published the misrepresentation which I quoted - weighing about H oz., the increase in postal costs would be no more than lid. per annum. That newspaper is not worth one penny if this article is a sample of how it influences public opinion. For a weekly publication weighing 3 oz. the increase would be ls. 4d. per annum, and for one weighing 4 oz. it would be ls. 9d. per annum.
In the case of bigger newspapers weighing up to 7i oz. - and I believe that a periodical of this kind circulates freely in Queensland - the increase would be about 3s. 5d. a year, roughly no more than about three farthings for each copy. Each copy of the “ Land “ newspaper, a very good publication that circulates in New South Wales, weighs about 9i oz. The increase charged for the conveyance of that news-* paper by post would be 4s. 4d. a year. That is somewhere about Id. a week. Yet we have heard these outbursts about the increase in bulk rates. I say without fear of contradiction that the increase is no greater than 33i per cent, and, if the publishers of these papers wish to add the increased postal charges to the subscription that is asked for the newspaper, the increase in the subscription should not be greater than 33i per cent.
Reference has been made to publications that cannot obtain registration for postage under the bulk rates. It has been pointed out clearly that no provision is made in the Post and Telegraph Act for free publications. Section 28 (1.) of that act states that unless newspapers are printed and published in the Commonwealth for sale, they cannot receive the advantage of bulk rates of postage. I suggest to the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant), the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) and other honorable members who have mentioned this matter that if the free newspapers are of the importance to the public that has been claimed for them, the publishers should use their brains a little and make a charge for their publications. The charge need be only a nominal one to justify registration for bulk postage purposes. A necessary condition is that the publications must be sold, and that something like 75 per cent, of them are sold for the figure that has been quoted. If the publications are of the value to the people that has been claimed by honorable members opposite, no great hardship will be placed upon the people who now receive them by the imposition of a nominal charge. One honorable member who has been associated with postal affairs for some time has informed the House of an instance in which 120 small publications have been mailed for 5d. How fantastic is that price in this day and age when one has regard to the present basic wage!
I could continue at great length on the position in England, but I shall leave that subject to deal with the proposals relating to telephones. Despite the increased rentals and adjustment of charges for calls, I am convinced that in very many cases where a telephone is used to any extent the accounts at the end of a year will be less than they are at present. Honorable members who have criticized the proposed charges have not referred to the proposal to waive charges for maintenance carried out by the Post Office on lines which are more than two miles from the exchange. This will mean a loss of £90,000 in revenue to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. The objective at which the department is aiming is that in the future - not in the immediate future, but eventually - maintenance on all lines will be carried out by the Postal Department so that the people will be more efficiently served. During the speech of the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) last night, I interjected and said that a telephone user would pay ls. extra but would receive a rebate of 2s. 6d. That position will apply to many people in the country.
No credit has been given to the PostmasterGeneral by honorable members for making available a free issue of boots to all uniformed staff in the department. When the Labour Party had the opportunity to do something for the people it is supposed to look after and protect, did it do anything? No! It was left to the Postmaster-General, a member of the Country Party, to do something to benefit the employees in the Postal Department. His action has found so much favour with the men in his department that they have written congratulatory letters to him. Has any previous PostmasterGeneral sought to give effect to Tress, the system which, in the very near future will mean that before a telegram going on the line at Leeuwin in the southwest of Western Australia is completed, it will be coming off a line at Cairns in the north-east of Queensland? Has any honorable member opposite given credit to the Postmaster-General for the improvements that have been effected in the telegraph section since he has held his portfolio?
Opposition members have concerned themselves with pin-pricking about all these little charges that have been proposed. This country is developing rapidly, but they have failed to look at the overall picture and to realize that the people in Australia will get a better service, a service to which they are entitled, due mainly to the activities of the Postmaster-General who has been able to instil into the minds of the staff engaged in his department the idea of service to the people. He has thrown out the challenge to his staff and they have accepted it. They are now doing what they can to put these improved services into operation. If we wish to obtain the benefits that will soon be available for us, we must be prepared to pay for them. But the charges will not be excessive.
In the not-far-distant future we shall be able to pick up our telephone and dial a number in any part of Australia. Are not these advantages of which we, as a young country with a population of 10,000,000, should be justly proud? Of course they are! I dislike intensely the pin-pricking in which Opposition members have indulged about these little things while they have completely disregarded the big things. If we were to exhibit some superiority instead of walking around with an inferiority complex, we could assist the Postmaster-General to provide improved postal services in this country which would be comparable to those in any country of the world.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Mr. Speaker, the Post Office belongs to the people. Its welfare is the people’s welfare; its losses are the people’s losses; its successes are the people’s successes. The Post Office is the hub of every village and town. The standard of a town often is measured by the standard of the local post office. The entire community is wrapped around it. It becomes a personal thing for all sections of the community, and its officers become the friends of the people with whom they come in contact. The Post Office is entirely democratic. It recognizes no class distinctions. Its doors are open to rich and poor, high and low, to man and management. It is the conveyor belt for every kind of news. Messages of sadness and joy, death and life, commiseration and congratulation, failure and success, loss and gain, pass through its immense communication system. Moreover, may I venture to say that many romances have begun at the Post Office. How many young people. during the exciting time of courtship, have said to one another, “ Met me at the post office at 8 o’clock to-night”? I may say that my own romance did not start in that way, but I know many that did.
The Postmaster-General’s Department undoubtedly is the greatest utility in the land. Its range of service is phenomenal. Because the postal and telephone services are so close to the people any drastic change in charges reverberates throughout the entire nation. It has the effect of a chain reaction. For instance, the 33J per cent, increase in letter postage rates, which is one of the worst features of the bill now before us, will be felt by letter writers from Ceduna to Cairns, from Broome to Brisbane, from Cooktown to Canberra, from Port Hedland to Hobart, from Perth to Port Kembla and from Darwin to Heard Island. In other words, this Government’s proposals affect the entire community. The criticism to which the Government has been subjected as a result of these proposals has been watered down by supporters of the Government. Of course, that is their purpose - to water down criticism levelled at them. They have claimed that we have not announced the dates on the letters of protest that we have received. That is not an answer to the criticism. The letters were received as soon as the bill was introduced.
– As soon as the bill was introduced?
– Yes, as soon as the bill was introduced. As soon as it was in the air that there would be increased charges. The extent of the criticism of these increases is shown by the number of business houses that have written to members of Parliament and by the number of farmers who have written to us and spoken to us in our electorates. We have heard, too, from representatives of country newspapers, the religious press, union journals and the distributors of free newspapers, who were referred to yesterday by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird).
Who are the people who will be really affected by these proposed increases? Every telephone user will pay an increase of. 33i per cent, on local calls. Every writer of a letter and every sender of a postcard will pay an increase of 25 per cent, in postage. Everybody who pays rental for a telephone will have that rental increased by between 15 per cent, and 20 per cent., depending on where he lives. Within three months 90 per cent, of Australians will have felt the burden of these increased charges, and most people will be affected severely by them.
I am not so stupid as to say that you must run a department at a loss, but we on this side of the House criticize the Government for trying to recover its losses in the Postal Department in one year. If the Government wants to obtain more revenue from this department, why does it not institute a five-year plan to obtain that revenue by a gradual process rather than hitting the country with these excessive charges in the first year? That is my main criticism of the Government’s action in raising these charges. Who will be hardest hit by them? After all, to-day a telephone is not a museum specimen. It is not an ornament on the mantelpiece. A telephone is a tool of trade to many people in the community to-day. I am not talking about the people who use the telephone to gossip about Mrs. Jones; but I would say that in 80 per cent. of cases to-day the telephone is used as a tool of trade, just as the man in the factory uses a machine and the man on the farm uses a tractor.
When viewed in that light the effect of the increased telephone charges will be terrific. Those who will be hardest hit will be the people who cannot pass on the extra cost to the consumers. Who are they? The farmers cannot pass on the extra cost. People living in the rural areas, whom the Australian Country Party allegedly represent, will be hit very hard. To-day farmers are businessmen. A man cannot get very far in any type of primary industry if he is a muddler. His telephone is used as a means of quick communication with his merchant and with other people who are vitally important to his industry. Farmers are using telephones more than ever they did before. The electorate of Wilmot, which I have the honour to represent, occupies half the area of Tasmania. In that area 21 different types of agricultural pro- “ ducts are grown and I know, from my thirteen years of constant travel throughout my electorate, how vital a telephone is to the farmers. Those men will be hit very hard by this measure.
Individual telephone subscribers will suffer as a result of the proposed increases. Take pensioners! Many pensioners have a telephone by order of their doctor. I have had to help pensioners to get telephones because of sickness and the necessity to have a ready means of communication with a doctor. As far as I know a pensioner’s telephone rental is not reduced in any way. This Government places pensioners in the same category as big business executives. If the Government wants to do something for the pensioners it should introduce a bill to reduce the rentals of their telephones. They will be hit very hard by these increases.
Consider the old people, who love to send and receive Christmas cards. This may not sound as important as it really is, but greeting cards play a big part in building up the morale of the sick and the aged. They help these people to feel that they still belong in this world - especially those who are in hospital, as the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) reminds me. I predict that in the next year the number of Christmas cards posted will decline sharply.
I was talking on the telephone to my brother last night, and he made an excellent suggestion for overcoming the cost of sending Christmas cards. I pass his suggestion on to this Parliament and the country for what it is worth. He will send his Christmas greetings in future by inserting an advertisement in his local newspaper. I think that is an excellent idea, and I will probably do likewise. For an expenditure of £1 or £2, you could insert in a newspaper a very nice Christmas message to all your friends. Just imagine how the Post Office revenue will suffer if many people do that in order to beat these increases. However, if that is done it will mean that the old people will be denied the pleasure of receiving a Christmas card.
These increases will hit unions hard. They cannot pass on the increased telephone and postal charges to their members. Take charity organizations! There are many of these throughout the Commonwealth which will be hit by the increases because they cannot pass on the extra costs. I am thinking in particular of service organizations such as Lions clubs, Rotary clubs, Apex clubs, masonic lodges and other lodges.
– Now you are talking about my mob.
– If the honorable member will tell me what his mob is, I will mention it also. Every service organization will be hit by the increases. Every ex-servicemen’s club will be hit. Thousands of hospitals, private and public, which cannot pass on the increases to their patients, will suffer.
Imagine the effect that these increases will have on mail order firms. The honorable member for Batman yesterday mentioned how badly these people will be hit, and I want to show how one firm in Melbourne will be affected by these increases. These figures were given yesterday by the honorable member for Batman, but I think they are worth repeating. In a period of six months this particular company sends out 5,000 catalogues. The present postal charges on them amount to £239. The new charges will raise this figure to £354 - -an increase of almost 48 per cent. The company sends out 20,000 sale catalogues. The present postage on them is £208. That will rise to £416 - an increase of 100 per cent. The company posts 10,000 3-lb. parcels, costing at present £1,125. The new cost will be £1,500 - an increase of 33 per cent. The company posts 40,000 receipts. The present charge is £583. The new charge will be £833 - an increase of 42 per cent. The company sends out 74,000 letters, costing at present £1,127. Under the new charges they will cost £1,541 - an increase of 36 per cent. I have not cited in full how these increased costs will affect this one company, but what a tremendous extra burden these proposals will be to this one mail order firm! Many of such firms will have to close down or greatly restrict their business. They will be hard hit, because they cannot pass on these costs.
The people in the community who will be able to pass on these increased charges are, generally speaking, businessmen. Some storekeepers may be able to pass them on. The butcher, the baker and the grocer may be able to pass them on. In country towns those people send out monthly accounts, but very likely their own costs will increase considerably as a result of these proposals.
Are these charges really necessary? I say they are not necessary in their present form. Fanatical moves have been made by this Government since it came to office to smash socialist enterprises. In that regard the Government has had a successful run. The success of its policy will be seen when a Labour government is returned to power and tries to re-establish some of these governmentowned and people-owned enterprises. This Government has an obsession that anything owned by the people must be destroyed or weakened; such as the Commonwealth Bank and Trans-Australia Airlines, and now the Post Office.
The Post Office is in part a business undertaking, admittedly, but it is in part also a great public service. The drastic increases in charges proposed in this bill represent a clumsy attempt to put this great socialist enterprise on the same footing as a huge capitalist enterprise. There is clear evidence of this in the amazing change of long-established policy as a result of the
Government’s deciding to levy interest on money provided from Consolidated Revenue for the expansion of the services of the Postmaster-General’s Department. This is a complete new departure which we on this side of the House condemn. I should like to give honorable members the history of it. It is fascinating. In March of this year, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made a statement in respect of the charging of interest on funds provided for government business undertakings. That statement is reported at page 1083 of “ Hansard “ of yesterday’s date, in these terms -
Really, the idea of us paying ourselves interest on the money that we lay out for public works is a bit humorous, is it not?
He added -
Therefore, charging ourselves interest is merely a complicated piece of bookkeeping that does not produce one pennyworth of financial results.
The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) quoted that yesterday, and the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) quoted it the day before. I quote it again to-day because it is so significant.
On 11th August of this year, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), as reported at page 43 of “ Hansard “ of that day, said, in his Budget speech -
In the meantime, … it is clear beyond doubt that, since capital expenditure on the Post Office must continue to increase, the earnings of the Post Office should also be increased, not merely to meet the cost of its day-to-day services but to provide something by way of return on the additional capital.
– Does the honorable member think that this measure will put many Government supporters out at the next general election?
– I think that it could put many Government supporters out at the next general election.
Mr. Speaker, I have just read to the House two completely contradictory statements - one made by the Prime Minister in March, and one made by the Treasurer in August. I claim that, in the few months between, some smooth talking was done by some one behind the scenes in Government circles who changed the Government’s mind on this important matter. This is where the real bosses of Australia played their part. Some hidden hand influenced the Government. As we now know, it was the Treasury officials who came into the picture and advised the Government. I know this, because many of the top officials of the Post Office were shocked when news of the contemplated changes came out.
– They felt that it was a sellout.
– Yes, they felt that it was a sell-out of the Postmaster-General’s Department. Who triggered off this new policy? Beyond doubt, it was the Treasury officials - the people whom we do not see behind the scenes. The hidden hand of dictatorship which tries to direct the parliamentary machine in this country got to work. The Treasury officials were responsible for this change. They advised the Government that it must charge interest on Consolidated Revenue funds provided for the Post Office. A while ago, the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) became all hot and bothered because various honorable members had cited different figures in relation to bulk postage. Government supporters should talk, Mr. Speaker. Nobody was more confused on this issue than were members of the Government. Even the Prime Minister was confused. The country was certainly confused. Protests came in immediately reports of these changes were released. Big deputations were sent to Canberra to meet the Prime Minister, and, in his speech on the Budget, the right honorable gentleman announced changes in the proposals for bulk postage. Obviously, it is the Government and not the Opposition that is confused. The country, however, is still confused as to what are the bulk postage rates really contemplated by the Government.
Could the Postmaster-General’s Department have increased its revenue in any way other than by increasing direct charges, Mr. Speaker? I believe that there is another way. That way would not have brought in the entire fi 7,000,000 that the Government seeks under this bill, but it could have brought in several millions more to increase the revenue of the Post Office. My colleague, the honorable member for Batman, mentioned this method yesterday, and I mentioned it briefly in my speech on the Budget.
– This is tedious repetition.
– The honorable member may not have heard the honorable member for Batman.
– What about some new ideas?
– I believe that, when one has a good idea, it is a good thing to repeat it. The Post Office handles business on behalf of a number of non-post-office organizations and institutions, for which it undertakes the payment of age and invalid pensions, war pensions, widows’ pensions, child endowment, and naval, military and air force allotments; the collection of war service homes and repatriation payments, and customs duty on postal articles; the sale of Commonwealth taxation stamps, beer duty stamps and State duty stamps; and Commonwealth Savings Bank transactions. I always marvel at the way in which Post Office officials are able to keep up this tremendous amount of work for the community in fields that are not related to the Post Office. They function as the collecting agencies for all these activities that I have just mentioned. In the financial year 1957-58, the total value of these transactions was £253,000,000, but the commission earned by the Post Office on them amounted to only £1,150,107, which represents less than one-half of 1 per cent. If the Post Office charged for these services the ordinary rate of commission of, say, 2£ per cent., it would receive about £6,300,000 instead of only £1,150,107, or approximately £5,000,000 more - without raising postal charges by one penny. This would be one way of bringing in more revenue for the Post Office without hurting anybody. That is the proposal put forward by myself and my colleagues. It would save users of the postal service from being slugged with this sandbag of increased charges, as it were.
The next point with which I should like to deal is this: Will the revenue brought in by these increased charges be as great as the Government expects? My colleague, the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), mentioned buyer resistance yesterday, and I referred to it in my speech on the Budget. It is obvious, human psychology being what it is, that when the charge for any service is increased fewer people use the service. As an example of what happens when charges are increased, 1 could mention tram, bus and rail services. When fares are raised, fewer people travel by those kinds of transport. Air services are in much the same position. In respect of the Post Office, telegrams can be taken as an illustration. Here is the result of the Government’s action in increasing telegram charges two years ago. Page 16 of the annual report of the Postmaster-General for the year ended 30th June, 1958, indicates that 22,884,341 telegrams were handled in the financial year 1957-58, compared with 23,964,656 in 1956-57- a decline of more than 1,000,000 as a result of charges being increased. This trend has continued for the last two years, and hundreds of thousands of pounds less have been earned in revenue each year - just because telegram charges were increased. Similar results will ensue, I believe, now that we are going to increase these charges - or, rather, the Government is going to increase them, not the Opposition, because the Opposition is going to vote against the bill later this afternoon.
Now I pass to another aspect of this legislation. What will be the effect of some of the changes in telephone charges on the 9,000 non-official postmasters throughout Australia? In this connexion I have been in touch with the federal secretary of the Non-Official Postmasters Association. I have also been in touch with non-official postmasters in Tasmania. I have been told a very disturbing story of what is going to happen. I have before me a letter from the federal secretary of the association, which reads, in part -
As you are no doubt aware, the allowances paid to a non-official postmaster are based on the time taken to execute any given transaction, and in respect to telephone transactions the time value of a unit fee call is considerably less than one transmitted over a trunk line, thus the extension of the radius could mean a reduction of approximately 80 per cent, in the income of a non-official postmaster. His accountancy work would be reduced, but the manipulative work could be increased, unless more trunk lines were made available.
Has this Government given consideration to this most important change that will take place in the income of non-official postmasters, their own private income, when the distances covered by local call fees are increased to 35 miles? To illustrate the seriousness of the change, let me mention the case of one such postmaster in Tasmania. This postmaster is paid about three times as much for putting through a trunk line call as for a local call, and out of 4,500 calls a month 3,000 are trunk line calls. This man’s income will be affected disastrously on this one item alone as soon as the legislation before us becomes law.
I make a final plea to-day for the nonofficial postmasters, and I ask the Government to consider again the drastic effect that this legislation will have on the incomes of these men who are doing such a magnificent job. As was stated by the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), who represents a country electorate, as I do, these men are doing a very good job all the year round, on a limited salary. They are performing a full time service for the people, and they will suffer a hammer blow from this extension of the radius for local calls to a distance of 35 miles from the capital cities or big towns. I believe that the salaries of these people will have to be increased in order to give them justice. If not, many of these men, who have bought homes and have spent a good deal of money in educating their children, and who have become well-established in the country villages, will have to find other work. I suggest, therefore, that the Government should look into the situation and try to correct the mistake that it has made and to repair the injustice that it has done to a wonderful band of men and women, 9,000 in all, who have carried the traditions of the Post Office to the outermost limits of this land.
I will have great pleasure this afternoon in voting against this scandalous legislation.
.- There has been a lot of criticism and comment with regard to this bill. Some of it is, without doubt, justified. I find myself in the position of being unable to support the bill.
– Will you vote against it?
– No, I am going to abstain from voting on this bill. I am making that decision, and I am the one who is not going to cast the vote, and I now propose to tell honorable members why I will not do so. My opinion has been arrived at after a consideration of what appears to be the key to the whole situation. This was the statement made by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in his Budget speech. He said, as reported on page 43 of “ Hansard “ of 11th August, 1959-
There is room for difference of opinion as to what the true capitalization of the Post Office should be in accounting terms, and so that the Government may have the -best advice on that and other outstanding questions, we have recently decided to appoint a committee of competent outside people to study and report upon the basis on which the commercial accounts of the Post Office should be prepared. When we have the advice of that committee we shall review the whole question of Post Office finances, and we hope then to be able to determine in precise terms what constitutes the capital of the Post Office, regarded as a business undertaking, and what annual return upon it the Post Office should reasonably be required to seek.
That is the key to the whole position. What it means, broadly, is that the Government has introduced a bill, not knowing whether it is justified in making the charges that it seeks to make. In these circumstances, I do not propose to support the measure until the Government is at least clear in its own mind as to whether the charges are justifiable and, consequently, whether they are reasonable.
I do not propose to comment on a number of other aspects of the bill, upon which one could quite justifiably comment. Let me merely say that I hope the proposed committee is appointed very soon, that it does its job thoroughly and that it brings in its report as soon as possible, to enable the Government to review the position, as the Treasurer has said it will do. I feel that the sensible thing for the Government to do, even at this very late stage, would be to delay the implementation of the bill until this committee has been established and has made its report, or until the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and his Cabinet colleagues are able to get themselves out of the self-inflicted darkness in which they are blundering about at the moment.
– I desire to congratulate the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm) upon the transparent honesty of his approach to this proposed amendment of the Post and Telegraph Rates Act. It seems to me that his attitude closely resembles that of the Opposition. With regard to the speech of the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) to which I listened this after noon, I would .like to say something about his sneers at the free press. It seems to me to be highly undesirable that the free press, as compared to the paid press, should be subject to jibes of the category that it had to endure this afternoon. Later in my speech J will inform the honorable member for Canning of a few facts about the .free press, at .least as it exists in urban areas, of which he seems to be entirely oblivious.
It was interesting to listen to the honorable member’s speech and to see the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) basking in the sunshine of his fulsome praise, because from this side of the House the Minister has received no praise at all, and, in fact, he has not received very much from his own side. Spokesmen on this side of the House have been most vocal and extremely critical of the bill, and, I think, with a great deal of justice. I .shall not attempt to deal with every facet or aspect of the bill. It has so many facets that it would be impossible to deal adequately with them in the space of time available. The Post Office is a great public utility, and it ought to be regarded as such. I think at the outset we should decide in what light we will regard this enterprise. Is it to be regarded as a business or a service? On this side we declare emphatically and categorically that it is a service to the people of Australia and that it ought to be treated as such. On the Government side, it is now quite plain for all to see that this great public service is to be regarded as a strictly business undertaking that must yield profits.
Government supporters speak glibly about equating revenue with expenditure. The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in his Budget speech estimated that, without extra charges, the profit of the Post Office for this year would be £400,000. He might have added, for the information of the Australian people, if he had spoken with the candour that ought to characterize a Treasurer, that in this year there occurs, thanks to the calendar, an abnormal pay day, or, to make it perfectly clear, shall I say an abnormal pay week, which brings an extra week’s pay into the year for the 84,000 employees of the Postmaster-General’s Department. This accounts for an extra £3,000,000. If we take the estimated profit of £400,000 and the £3,000,000 for the extra pay, the profit for the year without increased charges will be nearly £3,500,000. Despite this knowledge, the Government proposes to levy additional tolls upon the people for whom this service was created. If I could perceive anywhere in the bill or in the second-reading speech of the PostmasterGeneral something other than a little lipservice to the 84,000 employees in his department, I would look upon the Government’s proposals with a less jaundiced eye. But I see nothing to indicate a desire by the Government to sweeten labour with the hope of reward.
On the Government’s own say-so, estimated total profits are £10,700,000, to which we must add the £3,500,000 that I mentioned earlier. The real profit, therefore, will be approximately £14,000,000. All of this is to be paid into Consolidated Revenue and I expect that much of it will be loaned to the very people from whom it was taken in the various States at what I shall describe as usurious rates. I use that term, although I know the rate of interest will be low, because the PostmasterGeneral, like the Treasurer, has become a Robin Hood in reverse, as he was so aptly called by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). He intends to charge the people interest on their own money. He has only to go one step further to charge them interest on the money still remaining in their pockets and on next week’s pay before they get it.
In the light of the disproportionate profit of £14,000,000, we might now take a glance at some of the means that will be used to obtain this profit. Since I am not a country resident, I shall leave the country people to the tender mercies of the Australian Country Party and shall concentrate first upon the annual rental increase for telephones for private citizens and business people in urban areas. There is to be an additional impost of £2 on the private telephone and an additional £4 on the business telephone. This, I have no doubt, has been received with great joy by the blind and the pensioners who stint themselves so that they may have the means to summon medical attention at a moment’s notice in the event of a heart attack, a diabetic coma or one of those ailments to which aged people are always vulnerable. I have no doubt the increased charge will be greeted with paeans of delight by those small shopkeepers who struggle against the ruthless competition of the great stores. Much of their work is done by telephone, but they will find that their costs have now greatly increased - and these people cannot afford to have their costs increased.
If further proof is needed that this is a rich man’s government, I need point only to the fact that the charge for each telephone call is to be increased by 33£ per cent, from 3d. to 4d. One so-called improvement in the telephone service, which will gladden many hearts, is the arrangement that trunk-line calls between capital cities such as Sydney and Melbourne may be made in the future for as little as the price of a local call. But even here there is a catch. Such a call will be measured in seconds and no provision is made for people who have difficulty with their speech. I know at least one member in another place who will still be at a great dis-dis-advantage.
We are informed that letters will require a 5d. stamp. This is an increase of 25 per cent, on the old rate of 4d. The PostmasterGeneral may have had in mind that now is the time to strike while the iron is hot; Christmas is very close. There will be the usual vast increase in the volume of mail’ handled by the Post Office at Christmas time, with the numerous post cards and greetings that are sent during the festive season. He probably said to himself, “ I may as well strike now and cash in on it”.
The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) made a few very cogent and pungent observations about air-mail letters. We have been told that another great advantage that flows from the Government’s proposal is that the cost of letters sent by air will decrease from 7d. to 5d., and that therefore we should all rejoice. What does it mean to people who live in the two capital cities between which the greatest volume of mail passes? It does not mean a thing! A letter sent try the afternoon mail from Sydney will travel by night to Melbourne and will be delivered the following morning, whether it goes by air-mail or surface mail. The same position obtains with mail from Melbourne to Sydney. This proposal, therefore, means nothing to most people. However, I concede that those who live in Western Australia or in northern Queensland will g»in some advantage and for that I congratulate the Postmaster-General. No one ‘-an say that we on this side of the House are entirely critical and entirely destructive. I do not want to impute sinister motives to the Government for all that it does, but the thought in the minds of many honorable members on this side is that perhaps the reason for this change lies in the declining fortunes of Ansett-A.N.A. If that company can be given a good deal more mail to carry at a lucrative rate, it may stave off eventual bankruptcy.
Another matter to which I want to refer concerns the great wealthy and powerful newspapers. They emerge from the PostmasterGeneral’s savage onslaught almost unscathed. They put on the pressure to which this Government always yields, and the Government backed down on its proposals for them in its customary cowardly way, just as a trained lion in a circus cowers at the crack of the ring-master’s whip. It is quite plain for all to see that this Government’s ring-master is big business. Small free newspapers. not incuriously, are singled out to carry the heaviest burden, as are the small newspapers published by the various Christian churches and the trade unions. But here again the Government runs true to form. These papers commit the unpardonable sin of being small. The easiest way to sin in the eyes of this Government is to be small, and there can be little doubt that many small newspapers will bite the dust as the effects of this Government’s proposals are felt in the coming months.
Let me make a few comparisons, in reply to the honorable member for Canning, between the free newspapers and the rich and powerful dailies; and I am not referring to the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). The daily newspapers have by far the largest circulation, and for a good reason. It is well known that they pander to the baser and more unhealthy appetites of their readers with sensationalism in almost every form. When I make a comparison between the daily and the free newspapers, I am reminded of an honorable senator who started life as a journalist. One of his first missions was to tour a wheat-growing district in New South Wales and write an informative article on wheatgrowing. I understand he spent about three or four weeks among the wheat-farmers watching and observing all that went on. On his return to his office, he wrote what he thought was an excellent article which he submitted to his editor. The editor gave the article a brief glance, pushed a button on his desk and sent for the cub reporter. He then gave the reporter his first lesson as an editor-teacher to an aspiring journalist. “Take this article away and re-write it “, he said. “ We are not here to educate the people, but to entertain them.” That is the way the daily newspapers get their great circulations.
On the other hand, the free newspapers are clean and wholesome. At least they try very hard and, I think, successfully to present news in the manner of “ Hansard “, uncoloured and without distortion. The reward of the free newspapers is to get from this Government savage punishment in the form of increased postal rates, while the rich and powerful newspapers emerge almost unscathed. This Government, out of arrogance which springs from the security of its numbers, is riding for a fall. In the approaching Christmas season of goodwill when the great volume of Christmas cards begins to flood the post offices, many will ‘remember this unwarranted assault on the pockets of the poor. The tide of inflation has received further impetus from this Government which was first elected upon its promise to stem the tide. It is rather interesting to recall, for the benefit of those who have brief memories, that the basic wage in 1949 was only half what it is to-day. By its proposals in this bill, the Government has kicked the basic wage upwards one more ring in the spiral about which it falsely professes such great concern. Mr. Speaker, I have the temerity to hope that this measure will meet with ignominious defeat.
.- All in this House will be as one in agreeing that this is a measure of far-reaching importance. It relates to a department whose work involves it in every form of our social, industrial and commercial life. The bill relates to a department which, I suppose, is one of the very few Commonwealth departments that commands a real tradition. The work of many officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department, which was established in 1902, has commanded and still commands the admiration of all thinking Australians. But, Sir, from my point of view I confess at once that I regard this bill as singularly unwelcome in point of time. To make my stand perfectly clear I want to make this plain: My opposition to the bill is not based on any shallow grounds. In point of fact, there is only one of the alterations or adjustments proposed in the bill with which I violently disagree. For the purpose of my argument and my particular stand on this measure, I should like to concede that every adjustment proposed in the bill, with one notable exception, is completely justifiable and entirely defensible. I believe this bill should be delayed, but I fear that on this occasion the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) has adapted the motto of his department - “The mail must go through “ - and the parliamentary battlecry now is, “ The bill must go through “.
I put it to the honorable and gallant gentleman that there are a number of highly intelligible reasons why this measure should be delayed. I propose to invoke three authorities in support of my case. The first is the authority of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt). The second is the authority of the Auditor-General. Thirdly, I invoke the authority of the PostmasterGeneral himself. Sir, I turn first to the Treasurer’s Budget speech. I hope the House will pardon me if I cite this excerpt. It has been cited on a number of occasions in this debate, but I shall be very brief in my references. The right honorable gentleman stated -
There is room for difference of opinion as to what the true capitalization of the Post Office should be in accounting terms, and so that the Government may have the best advice on that and other outstanding questions, we have recently decided to appoint a committee of competent outside people to study and report upon the basis on which the commercial accounts of the Post Office should be prepared.
Then the Treasurer added -
When we have the advice of that committee we shall review the whole Question of Post Office finances, and we hope then to be able to determine in precise terms what constitutes the capital of the Post Office, regarded as a business undertaking, and what annual return upon it the Post Office should reasonably be required to seek.
Three questions are implicit in that statement of the Treasurer. First, this question emerges: Do we know what the capital assets of the Postmaster-General’s Departmen are? The plain answer is, “No”.
Allied with that, there is very grave doubt as to the proper basis upon which the commercial accounts of the Postal Department should be kept. Secondly, this fact emerges: On the report of the proposed committee will hinge a further review of the Postal Department’s finances. It is of singular importance to know whether the nature of the committee’s report will rest on whether there will be a further review of the entire scope and activities of the Postal Department from a financial point of view. Thirdly, the Treasurer’s statement implies that if the review of the committee shows that the capital of the Post Office is not securing a reasonable return, further adjustment may be necessary.
The essence of the matter is this: The Government does not know what is the structure of the Postmaster-General’s Department from the viewpoint of current assets. This Parliament does not know the position. The people of Australia do not know it. To use an expression which has had some measure of currency recently, “We are all in the dark on this matter”. It should not be thought that this dimness about the Postmaster-General’s Department is new, because it is not new. It seems that ever since the institution of the Post Office in Australia, the finances of the Postmaster-General’s Department have been prepared in a stygian cave forlorn. One goes back to the first Postmaster-General of the Commonwealth, Senator Drake, who said, on 6th June, 1901, after having moved the second reading of the first Post and Telegraph Bill introduced into this Parliament -
The senator continued -
First of all we must find out, by a proper system of bookkeeping, how the revenue and expenditure stand in relation to each other.
I think that it is the supreme touch of irony that some 58 years after the establishment of the Postmaster-General’s Department in this country we still do not know precisely what the capital structure of that organization is, and whether or not the system of bookkeeping in operation is a sound one.
I turn to my second authority for believing that the bill should be delayed. In the last report that he tendered to this Parliament the Auditor-General said -
In my previous report, it was mentioned that several matters of principle and policy had to be resolved before the financial statements relating to the commercial accounts of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department could be certified by me. Although the accounts are under audit, finality on outstanding matters has not yet been achieved.
Is this Parliament so abandoning its sense of responsibility as to let go unnoticed, unchallenged and unchecked the fact that the Auditor-General can declare in a report to the Parliament that because of matters of policy and principle the commercial accounts of the department for last year have not yet been certified by him?
Thirdly, I invoke the authority of the Postmaster-General himself. In his secondreading speech on the bill he had this to say -
The new charges have been developed with the object of ensuring an equitable return to the Post Office for the services it provides.
I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I put it to the Postmaster-General: How can the honorable gentleman on the one hand assert that the new charges have the object of ensuring an equitable return when the Treasurer, on the other hand, says that until we get the report of the committee we will not be able to determine what annual return the Post Office should reasonably be required to make? I believe that that is a fair question, and is deserving of an answer.
I turn from that to another aspect involved in the consideration of this bill. Last year, the Postmaster-General’s Department, leaving capital works out of consideration, made a profit of £2,987,681. This year, it expects a trading profit of £10,800,000. Last year, from the Consolidated Revenue Fund there was allocated £36,353,000. This year, from the Consolidated Revenue Fund there will be devoted some £39,400,000 to works purposes. The profit, and the money spent last year and expected to be spent this year on works, pose two questions. The first is: Should capital works financed out of revenue be subject to interest charges? Secondly, what is the fundamental purpose of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department? Is it exclusively a business undertaking, or is it a developmental and servicing agency? 1 shall deal briefly with the first question.
To my mind, it is absolutely cranky to say that works constructed with money supplied out of revenue should attract an interest payment, and particularly in this case when the Post Office is not competing with any other organization. What justification is there, what sense is there, in saying that the people who have provided the funds by way of taxation should have to provide the wherewithal to meet an extra imposition represented by interest on that capital? My honorable friend from Barker (Mr. Forbes) queries me here. I put it to him that it may well be appropriate to charge a servicing fee for money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, but to say that we should charge interest at a long-term or short-term bond rate is something that I cannot understand for the life of me. One is entitled to be quite open on this matter. I cannot see the reason or sense of the present proposal.
Now I turn to the second question, which is whether the Postmaster-General’s Department should be considered as a business undertaking or as a developmental and servicing agency. The problem was summed up, strangely enough, by the first Postmaster-General of the Commonwealth in his speech on the original measure. This is what Senator Drake had to say, and it is interesting to go back 58 years and take a glance at the record -
When I use the expression, “ policy of development”, it will be understood that what I refer to is the policy that is adopted of deliberately running the postal departments at a loss, in order to help the development of the country, and making up the difference by way of taxation.
He continued -
The other policy is the policy of running the post offices upon what I should call business lines; that is to say, making the revenue and expenditure balance as nearly as possible.
Sir, I think that that, broadly, is the position to-day. Is it, as Senator Drake asked, a business undertaking with expenditure and revenue balancing as nearly as possible, or is it a developmental and servicing agency? On that, I do not pass an opinion; but I do say that if the Postmaster-General’s Department is to be regarded as a business undertaking - and that would seem to be the broad view taken by most honorable members - it should be run by a statutory commission and not left in the hands of this Parliament, linked in a direct manner with the Public Service. That is my view, and I put it frankly. Whatever policy is declared for, I believe that it is essential that this Parliament should prevent any spillover into making the Postmaster-General’s Department a taxing authority. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department in England was originally established, I understand, to provide funds for the Duke of York’s household. My belief is that we should at all costs prevent the department in this country from being developed into an agency to provide funds for the Department of the Treasury.
Now I turn to what may be regarded as a philosophical and somewhat unimportant aspect of this legislation. The Postmaster-General’s Department plainly is a monopoly. My political philosophy has me in a position where I am flatly opposed to all forms of monopoly; but here as an inescapable and inevitable consequence we do have a monopoly. Because we have that monopoly I believe we should exercise the utmost caution, and scrutinize with the greatest care every proposal which relates to a monopolistic organization like the Postmaster-General’s Department.
That brings me to this issue, that I have a rooted objection to the alteration of the airmail surcharge. This proposal is, to my mind, discriminatory in its application, and not desirable. I would very much like to know where the clamour started for the abolition of the surcharge on airmail. I say again that it is discriminatory.
I remind the House that only 20 to 25 per cent, of the mails in Queensland are likely to be carried by air. I have lived in the outback of Queensland. In some places we got mail once a month and were jolly pleased to get it. The honorable member for Barker may despise the outback, but it has produced some sturdy and profitable results, as he can see. When living in such isolated places you cannot get your mails delivered by air. You get them delivered by mail coach, and when I was there, if the weather was wet the mails were carried by pack-horse or at best by sulky.
There is here involved a basic principle that the House must consider and on which it must decide.
If you are going to abolish the surcharge on airmail, equally you must face up to abolishing any extra charge involved in the registration of letters, in the lodging of person-to-person telephone calls, the sending of letters by express delivery, and the sending of urgent telegrams. Indeed, you must seriously consider abolishing the whole classification of mails. Sir, the philosophy that lies behind the proposal to abolish the surcharge on airmails is rotten to the core. It is entirely discriminatory and entirely socialist in its concept. It is levelling everything down. Opposition members who are interjecting may disagree with this. That is their business. I am putting my point of view.
I believe that the person who wants to work a little harder or to pay a little more for something is entitled to his reward. I have always regarded the airmail service as essentially an additional service. I have considered that you were entitled to it if you paid for it. That is my philosophy and I do not apologize to the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson), the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) or to this Parliament for it. It is my view and I am going to stick to it. I ask the House to consider the impact upon the railways of this country. Some people say, “It will only amount to a few hundred thousand pounds “.
– I will be interested to square that statement with the following facts: - In 1958-59, the PostmasterGeneral’s Department paid £200,000 to the Queensland Department of Railways. I understand, from what I regard as a respectable authority, that from 20 per cent, to 25 per cent, of that money will be lost to the Queensland Department of Railways. My figures may be wrong; equally, the PostmasterGeneral’s figure may be wrong. I should like to know. We do not jolly well know what the facts are and I think the Parliament is entitled to know.
I conclude by making an appeal to the Postmaster-General. If he will not delay this bill; if he is :going to insist on carrying the banner high and uttering the parliamentary battle-cry, “ The bill must go through “, at least he should give the House an assurance that when the report of the committee investigating the capital structure of the
Postmaster-General’s Department has been prepared, it will be presented to this Parliament, so that we may be given an opportunity to consider it in the light of the proposals on which we shall be called upon to vote this afternoon.
The Postmaster-General’s Department has not been inadequately nor improperly described in the past as a hundred-handed Argus. I am appealing to the PostmasterGeneral for an assurance that when the report of the committee is available, this Parliament will be able to turn the single gaze of one-eyed Cyclops on it and relate it to these proposals.
.- I rise to oppose this bill as all members on this side of the House oppose it. Not only do we oppose it verbally, but we will vote against it. We will not talk with our tongues in our cheeks, saying one thing and then voting in another way. To-day, the bill has been opposed verbally by the honorable members for Macpherson (Mr. Barnes), Macarthur (Mr. Bate), Paterson (Mr. Fairhall), Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes), Bowman (Mr. McColm) and Moreton (Mr. Killen). They have eulogized the Post Office. I, too, am proud of the Post Office. I am a shareholder in the Post Office. I speak, not only as a representative of the electorate of Reid, but as an individual shareholder in the Post Office when I say that I am appalled that this Government, which has whiteanted every socialized undertaking in this country, is now putting borers into this instrumentality.
In 1956-57, the Post Office made a profit of £3,100,000. In 1957-58, it made a profit of £4,000,000. It has been estimated that, due in a large measure to the occurrence of an extra pay-day this year, the Post Office would have a deficit of £4,000,000. Therefore, increased charges are proposed to yield a little over £16,000,000. That will give a surplus of over £11,000,000. Let us look at this Government’s estimating. The Budget estimate for the last financial year was for a deficit of £110,000,000. But, in fact, the deficit was only £29,000,000. I predict that this year there will be a Post Office surplus of more than £11,000,000, because of the efficiency of the people who work in it. Therefore, the proposed increases in charges are not warranted. It has been estimated that the turnover of the Post Office for this financial year will be £109,000,000, an increase of £16,000,000, or 15 per cent.
Apparently, the honorable member opposite who has yawned is very bored about this. I want to tell the Government what people have said to me about the proposed increases in postal rates, which represents indirect taxation on the community. Recently, as honorable members well know, there was a by-election in the State of New South Wales. It was fought on federal issues. The honorable members for Watson (Mr. Cope), Newcastle (Mr. Jones, Shortland (Mr. Griffiths), Grayndler (Mr. Daly), Lang (Mr. Stewart), Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam), and Senator Ormonde, Senator Arnold, Senator Armstrong and I went to the electorate in which the byelection was held. We went to the dairy farms. We talked to the banana-planters. We talked about the anomalies of this Government. We talked about the change from direct taxation to indirect taxation and the great burden of taxation that this Government is throwing on the people. What happened? A seat which the Australian Country Party, of which the PostmasterGeneral is a member, previously held has turned, for the first time in its history, into a Labour Party seat. As I have said, the by-election was fought on federal issues because we went there as a united front.
– A unity ticket job?
– There appears to be confusion on the back benches opposite. There has been so much confusion in the Government’s back benches on this bill that one would think there was going to be a revolution. As I have said, we went to this electorate in New South Wales and worked solidly and unitedly for our colleagues in the State Parliament who could not go to the electorate because that Parliament was sitting. They would have had to travel there by train as their gold pass does not take them by air and it takes a day and a half to get to the electorate from Sydney by train. They would have been free to go only at the week-end. Consequently, we fought the issue.
– I rise to order. The bill before the House is the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill. Am I correct in saying that the honorable member for Reid should relate his comments to the bill?
– Whilst the matter of post and telegraph rates covers a fairly wide area, I suggest that the honorable member should come back a little closer to the bill.
– I wanted to make it quite clear that the Labour Party fought the election in New South Wales on Post Office charges. That was the main issue. This by-election was the first opportunity that the people of New South Wales and of Australia had to pass judgment on this Government since the last general election. They passed judgment. Consequently, a seat which has been traditionally held by the party to which the Postmaster-General belongs, has become a Labour seat.
After all, the people govern this country. I make no bones about that. I am proud of the Post Office, which renders a great public service. It belongs to the people and gives service to them. It should not be treated as a revenue raiser. Throughout the whole of this Commonwealth it serves the people whether they be in Cairns, Perth, Wyndham or in South Australia. This Government has no right to use this organization to place a further burden upon the people. It has tried to undermine all other socialist instrumentalities in this country and now it is imposing a further burden by way of indirect taxation.
The thirty-seventh report of the Commissioner of Taxation for the year 1957-58 presents figures which give some indication of where the burden of these increased postal charges will fall. According to that report 69 per cent, of the population in this country earned less than £1,000 a year. Their total earnings for the year in question amounted to £1,300,000,000, which represented 46 per cent, of the total income earned by workers throughout the Commonwealth. Further figures show that 4 per cent, of the chosen taxpayers earn over £2,000 a year and their combined income of £513,000,000 represents 18 per cent, of the total earnings. It is clear that the mass of the people who earn less than £1,000 a year will be called upon to shoulder the burden of this indirect tax imposed by way of increased postal charges.
The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen), evidently in his more or less cooler moments, made some comments in his speech on this bill which were quite refreshing. It almost gives us hope that we can win him over. He might see “ Chif’ s “ light on the hill, and we may see that great event some day. However, I wish to quote from some of the speeches of honorable members on the Government side to show the confusion that exists not among back benchers but on the front bench. On 18th August last, when the Minister for Supply (Mr. Hulme) was speaking on the subject of the Post Office during the Budget debate he said, as was reported at page 305 of “ Hansard “ -
Big business houses are the principal users of the Post Office. They will have to carry the burden of the increase of postage charges. This is the first occasion that I can remember on which supporters of the Labour Party have become advocates of big business. Having regard to the recently published balance-sheets of public companies, I feel certain that they will be able to carry, and absorb, the increased postal charges without difficulty.
Yet, time and again, we have heard the back benchers of the same party argue that the principal issue is that this measure will impose a greater burden. The honorable member for Moreton would agree that that is quite wrong. The fact is, as honorable members well know, that big business will pass on these added charges and the consumer will pay them. This proves that this is an indirect tax. So far as big business is concerned it is another overhead charge which will be passed on. When the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) dealt with this subject in his speech on the Budget on 25th August last, he is reported, at page 533 of “ Hansard “, as saying -
As the Minister for Supply (Mr. Hulme) pointed out in connexion with postal charges, the average person posts only two or three letters a week. So, the real burden of the increased postal charges will fall, not upon him, but mainly on commercial and industrial concerns and they will be able to classify the charges as a taxation deduction because they are paid in earning assessable income. I think, Mr. Chairman, that the arguments put forward by the Opposition have been effectively demolished.
When speaking on this bill the other night, the Minister for Labour and National Service quoted every person in the book. He flitted from limb to limb. He just could not come back to earth. But he changed his tune and said that big business did not pass this charge on because it was a taxation deduction. To whom does the Taxation Branch belong? Does it not belong to the people? It is the only means available to the people, under our outmoded Constitution, through which the profits of this great nation can be redistributed to them. It is true that this Government has handed out taxation deductions. In order to elaborate on the confusion among members of the Government I shall quote a statement made by the honorable member for McPherson (Mr. Barnes), which appears on page 1080 of “ Hansard “. He said -
The unfortunate fact is that these extra charges are unnecessary. Had income tax rates been left as they were, the Treasury would be better off to the extent of £20,000,000.
He was saying that these increases in postal charges were not necessary and consequently it was not necessary for the Government to give a £20,000,000 tax reduction hand-out. Who will receive the benefit of that hand-out? Only the wealthy people, whom this Government represents. The white haired boy, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), had to make a mark on the occasion of presenting his first Budget. He had to impress and consequently he did so.
It is well known that the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) had a rough time in Cabinet when this measure was being considered. In the early stages if the Government’s consideration of these proposals the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) was much more virile and active in his opposition to them. Of course, it is well known that the honorable member is the Postmaster-General’s hatchet man; and this afternoon he tried to hack at the people who were advocating a little concession for the free newspapers in the community, I was not aware that an anomaly existed in the act which caused a discrimination between the bulk postage charges on what are known as free local newspapers and sold newspapers. This matter has been raised previously by the honorable members for Barton (Mr. Reynolds), Wills (Mr. Bryant), Batman (Mr. Bird), Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) and, this afternoon, by the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Clay). There is a reason for this apparent discrimination. Soon after federation, when the postal regulations were drafted, there were no free newspapers. The free local newspapers render a great service to the people. I hey are part and parcel of our community life.
The Postmaster-General has said that an anomaly existed during the period when the Labour Government was in office. That may be so but, as the honorable member for Batman has stated, to his knowledge no representations were made by the then Opposition to rectify the anomaly. In the Sydney metropolitan area there are now over 70 free newspapers with a total weekly circulation of over 750,000. There are ten free newspapers in my own electorate, one of which has a circulation of 40,000. I should like to see the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler), who has had a lot to say on previous occasions by way of interjection, stand on his feet and say or do something about the free newspapers in our district.
I ask the Postmaster-General to reconsider his decision on this matter. At the time of federation free newspapers were not circulated, but neither did the people have television, which is now an essential part of our life. I believe that free newspapers, for the purposes of this bill, should be placed on the same basis as paid newspapers.
The daily newspapers throughout Australia give us very little publicity. In fact, they have said that there is no Opposition in this Parliament. However, we have on this side of the chamber some honorable members who keep hammering at the Government’s economic policy. I should like to see two more efficient economists than the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) and the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns). They have hammered away at the Government’s economic policy, and on occasions have cut it to ribbons. But the daily newspapers have given them very little credit for what they have done. I must state that there is one exception - the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ which, over the past few months, has covered the debates fairly fully and even the back-benchers have been mentioned for their contributions. In this democracy the people should be given the full story of what goes on in this National Parliament. It is interesting to remember that the broadcast of the parliamentary proceedings was introduced by a Labour government. I know that some honorable members on the Government side would like to see the broadcasts discontinued because, after all, very few of them are now present in the chamber, one at least has not spoken this year, and some have participated in debates on only one or two occasions. But we have the right to express our views to the people of Australia. I commend the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ for its policy of giving wide coverage to parliamentary debates, and I should like to give another plug for the daily newspapers in general which give honorable members a fair go in reporting their doings in the National Parliament.
We on this side of the House oppose every line and every letter in this bill. I hope that members on the Government side who have criticized the bill will pluck up courage and move to this side of the chamber and vote with us on this legislation because, my friends, you never know - there may be a Lismore in your electorate at the next election.
.- Although criticism has been levelled at honorable members on this side of the chamber, only the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) has uttered a word of praise for the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson). I should like to add my quota of praise because I believe that the services that have been rendered by the Minister and by the organization which he controls are worthy of praise. We have heard a great deal of what the Post Office has done, but we have not heard very much about the activities of the employees of the Post Office. I believe that all those who work in the Postal Department deserve our praise and commendation, from the directors to the girls on the telephone exchange and the people who deliver our mail. As credit should be given where credit is due, it is only right and proper that we should render due praise to our great Post Office and the Minister who stands at its head.
I should like to say at the outset that I do not agree with all the provisions of this bill but, unlike the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Uren), I do not disagree with every line and every letter of the measure. The honorable member has made a rash and wrong statement. I disagree with a certain principle which has been established in this bill, but I shall support the Government, much as I dislike certain aspects of the measure, because the alternative to a Liberal-Country Party Government is too serious to contemplate.
– Did the honorable member have a say on the matter in Caucus?
– Every member in the Government parties, even the backbenchers, has the right to express his opinion. As I have said, I am not happy about a certain principle that has been established in this bill. The Post Office is both a business and a public service and it should not set out to make an unduly high profit; nor should it endeavour to return an amount which may be regarded as interest on the capital that has been invested or, to put it another way, an amount which would go towards meeting capital costs that may be incurred in the future. From either angle, I believe that the principle is wrong.
As we must regard the Post Office as a business, it must set out to balance its books and, if possible, to make a little profit. One reason why it must make a profit this year is that since 1949 it has sustained an aggregate loss of nearly £17,000,000. Therefore, I shall not object to any charges that may be levied which will have the effect of returning a profit of, say, £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 this year and which will go towards offsetting the accumulated losses of the past ten years. That is a reasonable proposition and good business, because over a period the Post Office will be able to balance its books. But it is one matter for the Post Office to balance its books over a period, and another matter for it to impose additional levies which, in a full year, will return an additional £17,000,000. Even allowing for a potential loss of, say, £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 during the year, which must be offset against the expected return of £17,000,000, there would still be a net profit of £12,000,000 or £13,000,000. I believe that it is wrong for the Post Office to make such a high profit. In short, the difference between my point of view and the point of view expressed by the POSt.master -General is a matter of about £10,000,000.
It is wrong to raise further money, whether it is called interest or a contribution to capital, because a very important principle is involved in the Government’s proposals. It is this. If it is right that this service should contribute a share of the amount required for further expansion in the Post Office, or part of the interest calculated on capital invested, whether it has been contributed by the taxpayer or not, the question is how much that share should be. Is it not obvious that once you establish the principle that the Post Office should pay a share of this cost of capital investment, it is only a step further to say that it should pay the lot? Therefore, if the principle is enunciated that the Post Office this year should pay £10,000,000 or £12,000,000 towards capital cost, it is equally possible to say that the Post Office this year should pay £35,000,000 or £39,000,000 towards the capital cost. So on that basis, on the principle that you are getting into an entirely different world, I maintain that it is wrong to make this much profit.
We know that the Postal Department’s services will return extra revenue of about £11,000,000 for the remainder of this year and £17,000.000 in a full year. We know that the postal side of the department is estimated to show a loss of about £4.000,000, including £1,500,000 on airmail services and quite a sizeable sum - more than £2,000,000 - because there is an extra pay period this year, but we must look at the service as a whole, and the upshot is that we are establishing a new principle. There can be no doubt that the Post Office is an important public service and a means of developing the country, but if we establish the principle that it should be a profit-earning enterprise, we must at once agree that the same principle applies to other services in the country, such as the Commonwealth Railways and civil aviation. Extending this argument into another sphere, it could be said that the States must make their railway services business propositions. If that argument were extended to Queensland, for example, and if it were desired to run the Queens land railways on a business basis and pay interest on the tremendous amount outlaid on capital works, one would have to pay to look at the trains, let alone ride in them. My point is that if it is right and proper to apply this principle to the Post Office, it is right and proper to apply it to all the other development services of the Commonwealth, including the Commonwealth Railways and the Department of Civil Aviation.
I am in favour of rates being charged which permit of a small profit being earned this year by the Post Office. My rough calculations show that this could be achieved by charging 4d. for a letter, including an unsealed letter, and that many other proposed postage and telephone charges could be reduced. Instead of making a large profit this year and next year, a profit of only £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 need be budgeted for. If that were the case the other charges that are proposed, and into which I need not go at this stage, could be adjusted. They must come down because the cost of reducing the postage on letters, sealed or unsealed, from 5d. to 4d. would not eat up all the estimated profit between £10,000.000 and £12,000,000 this year. My suggestion of a small profit would enable most of the charges to be reduced, as well as imposing a charge of 4d. for all letters, whether sealed or unsealed.
There is one further point about all this: Raising the postage charge for letters from 4d. to 5d. puts Australia in a class of its own. Before I came to this House I knew that the people of Queensland at least were worthy of special consideration, but I did not know that all the people in Australia were worthy of being put in a class on their own in the English-speaking world by being asked to pay postage of 5d. on letters. In Great Britain the rate is 3d., which is equivalent to 3)d. in Australian currency. In New Zealand the rate is the same as in Great Britain, and in the United States it is three cents, which is a little more than 3d. Australian. I think our rate will be the highest in the English-speaking world - certainly for a country as big as Australia. Of course, that is just a side issue. It is an indication that we are departing from the principle of cheap postal rates because we have decided that the Post Office shall earn this extra profit, and on the basis of my submissions that is unnecessary and therefore undesirable.
But not everything in this picture is gloomy. I was interested in what the honorable member for Canning said, particularly his remarks about the added services that the Post Office will give us this year and in the future. It cannot be denied that those added services will be of great advantage to us, and the Postmaster-General must be commended for them. In short, it is not a completely negative proposal. We are getting advantages. What could be better than this, for example: The PostmasterGeneral said - . . in spite of higher wages and materials costs, the operating deficit of the telegraph service has been progressively reduced from £1,200,000 in 1955-56 to £638,000 in 1956-57 and £330,000 in 1957-58. The progressive introduction of the handling of telegraph traffic by the new automatic teleprinter switching system (Tress) will ultimately have achieved savings of about £450,000 a year in operating costs.
He went on to say that no change is proposed in the basic rates for telegrams. My final submission is that when, by means of good equipment and skilled men, you have an improvement in your service, you do not necessarily need to increase the cost of the service. Any improvement that is made in this service which does not increase the cost must meet with our approval. Many improvements are being made and some of them are being made at a cost because we are using capital to make them. But any improvements that will have had the result that has been achieved in regard to telegrams are worthy of our praise.
So I say that overall, the bill does some good things, lt makes it clear that, in many respects, the postal service has greatly improved. AH of us here know of those improvements because we use the postal and telephone services so much. But I am not happy about the other side of the picture. Although we have made these improvements in the service, and have developed a business undertaking of which we can be justly proud, we have at the same time introduced what I think is a wrong principle - the principle that the Post Office, in addition to rendering these services, should make a large profit.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to say at the outset that I shall support an amendment that will be moved at a later stage by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), to whom we on this side of the House are greatly indebted for the comprehensive and unanswerable arguments that he advanced in criticism of this bill. I am sure that not only Labour members of this House but also all the people who were listening to the broadcast of the proceedings acknowledge that the facts and figures that the honorable member presented made out an unanswerable case.
I have followed this debate closely for the last two days, and I have not yet heard one speaker defend the Government on this issue, although many Government supporters have spoken. This proves conclusively that the Government should be doing what the Opposition’s forthcoming amendment will be designed to do. Instead, the Government has tacked onto postal and telephone services, as well as every other conceivable service provided by the Post Office, increased charges which will throw small businesses into chaos. I do not propose to defend members of the Australian Country Party and the Liberal Party of Australia against the people who, over the last few weeks, have condemned the proposals in respect of the bulk postage of newspapers, periodicals and the like, although perhaps they stand in need of some one to defend them. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Uren) mentioned the warning contained in the result of the by-election held last Saturday in the New South Wales State electorate of Lismore. I should like to add only that some 500 people attended to witness the declaration of the poll yesterday. If that large attendance is not a true indication of what country people are thinking, I do not know what is.
I should like to turn now to matters directly affecting the West Sydney electorate. I am very worried about postal and telephone services in that electorate. The Postmaster-General’s Department has refused, year in and year out, to do anything to meet the needs of the local residents. The whole Sydney metropolitan area has a population of approximately 2,000,000. It is astonishing that when a request for the installation of a public telephone or some similar facility is made in a city ;of ‘such great size, the department replies that the service .would not be economical, because it would not be a paying .proposition.
In my electorate, there .is a business which, ,prior .to the announcement of these increased1 .charges, was just about paying its way publishing .and circulating a news.paper. It .will .lose ,£5,000 a year when these proposals come into effect. That newspaper does not .undertake advertising to a great extent. I .suppose that only about 3 per cent, of its content would be made up of advertisements. It is astonishing to -think that it will no longer be a -paying proposition but will lose £5,000 a year when this bill becomes law. That is only one instance of many that I could give. There are many things that I should like to mention.
I suppose that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) will get away with these proposals, because Government supporters will vote for the bill, although the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm) has ^threatened, to-day, that he will not vote for it unless it is redrafted. However, I should like to mention one matter in particular to the Minister. I have been requested, not only by Labour supporters, but also by a number of Liberals, to press for the restoration of the clock to the General Post Office, in Martin Place, Sydney. On the last occasion on which I raised the matter, I received four letters of support from people at North Sydney, which is an electorate represented by a Liberal member. I think that perhaps I should not mention the matter again, because the Minister has told me that it would cost about £200,000 to replace the clock, as the foundations of the G.P.O. building are not sufficiently sound. If the foundations are not strong enough to support the clock, perhaps the building is not safe for people to be working there.
I suggest to the Minister, if he has decided not to restore the clock - and, very likely, he has done so - that he should have a replica placed in a suitable position in Martin Place. It is a disgrace that, since the removal of the clock from the G.P.O., the great City of Sydney - the second largest city in the British Commonwealth of Nations - has had to be content with a clock placed over the entrance to a gentle- men?s lavatory in Martin Place. That may sound a bit hot, but, unfortunately, it is a fact. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) mentioned earlier this afternoon that, in any city, the post office is a great meeting place for young people who find pleasure in outings together or who, perhaps, are courting. He reminded us that it .is .usual to say, “ We will meet at the post office under the clock “. That was the usual thing in Sydney before the clock .was removed from the G.P.O., but I am sure that nobody would dare to suggest that the post .office should be replaced as a meeting point by the other place that I have mentioned. Some honorable members, including some members of .my own party, are laughing, but .this is not a laughing matter. I regard it very seriously. I receive dozens of letters containing complaints about the absence of the clock at the G.P.O., in Sydney.
I turn now to Post Office matters affecting other parts of the West Sydney electorate. Many old people go to Miller’s Point Post Office for their pension. I suppose that there is space for only about seven or eight people inside that post office, and the rest have to stand out in the street until their turn comes, even if rain is falling. To make matters worse, within the post office there are no seats, no desks and not even a pen for use in completing a form. I have written complaining about these conditions time and time again. Similar conditions are found also at Woolloomooloo, Stanmore and Glebe, and I ask the Minister to come along to the West Sydney electorate, when the House goes into recess, with an officer of the Postmaster-General’s Department and allow me to point out the disgraceful conditions in many post offices in Sydney at the present time. I suggest to him that it is of no use for the department to reply to a request for the installation of a letter box with a statement that the site where it is wanted is only about 100 yards from an existing letter box, although, as I found on the last occasion on which such a thing happened, the nearest letter box was at least 240 yards away. I hope and trust that when the increased charges are imposed, the people of Sydney, and, in particular, the people of West Sydney, will see improvements made in the conditions which I have described.
This is a very intricate bill that we have before us, giving details of what the charges for postage and other services will be. I leave those matters to the conscience of members of the Country Party, of which the Postmaster-General is a member. It may be that at this juncture we cannot hope to change the proposed legislation, but let me say that when the next election comes around the Government will have to go before the people. Then, as surely as day follows night, the people will give only one answer to a government that has neglected not only every one connected with the Post Office, but also every one connected with Government offices and accommodation in Sydney.
– 1 would like to thank honorable members who spoke in the debate this afternoon and did not take their full time, thus making it possible for others who wished to speak in the debate to say a few words.
The measure before the House is quite obviously an unpopular one. If any person says that it is not unpopular, then he must be wearing a blindfold. However, the fact that it is unpopular does not mean that it is wrong. Indeed, how could a measure of this kind be anything but unpopular? Governments from time to time, if they are to do what is right and just, must bring down unpopular measures. They must, at the same time, be prepared to stand by those measures when they are introduced into the House. I am quite sure that every politician and every government would be much happier if all the measures introduced could be popular. But that is not the way things are. This Government, in particular, I believe, should be praised for the way it has been prepared from time to time, over the years, to introduce unpopular measures, as they have been made necessary by circumstances, and for the way in which it has stood by those measures. In each case its stand has, in later months or years, been proved to have been correct.
There are clear and simple reasons why the present measure is before the House and why it is, I believe, necessary. The Post Office, as I understand it, should pay its own way. Before this debate took place,
I think every person in Australia was of opinion that the Post Office was meant to pay its own way. Up to the present time, however, it has been just balancing its commercial accounts. There has been a small profit from its various trading operations, but it has made no provision whatsoever for future expansion. I prefer to regard the extra returns that will follow these new charges, not as interest on capital that has been provided in the past from Consolidated Revenue, but rather as a contribution - not a very large one, at that - to the future expansion of the department. This has cost, I think, about £350,000,000 over the last ten or twelve years, the money having been provided from Consolidated Revenue. The simple question is: Who is going to pay? Is it to be the taxpayer only, who will provide the money from Consolidated Revenue, or is it to be the user of the Post Office and its various services?
When considering these charges it is worth remembering that, if the increases that are now proposed were not made, the loss on trading operations in the present year alone would be £4,000,000 - very largely as a result of the recent basic wage increase. With the increased charges, there would be a profit of about £11,000,000 on trading operations. A further £28.000,000 will be provided in this year, making about £39,000,000 available for use for further expansion. Even with the increased charges, the users of the Post Office will not be asked to finance all of the future expansion of the department. Indeed, they will be supplying funds for only a small proportion of that expansion, and I do not think it is unreasonable to ask them to do so.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) led the debate on this bill from the Opposition side. He suggested that the Government is adopting a new policy - some terrible policy invented by this Government. But, if my memory serves me correctly, until 1945, when moneys were provided from loan funds and not from Consolidated Revenue, interest was charged to the department.
– It still is.
– Only on moneys raised before that time. Even in 1949, as has been mentioned previously in this debate, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), in introducing a bill which was in some respects similar to this bill, advocated policies that the present Government is supporting now. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports himself, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, made some significant remarks, which appear in the Twelfth Report of that committee at page 172. I appreciate that in a committee of this kind honorable members tend to forget their party affiliations to a greater extent, perhaps, than they do inside this chamber. 1 realize that this may be a reason for the difference between the statement made by the honorable member in the report of the Public Accounts Committee and the statement that he made in this place a few days ago. On page 172 of the report in question the honorable member is reported as saying -
I think the basic philosophy of governments in
Australia, both Labour and Liberal-
You see, there is no suggestion of party politics in this contention - has been roughly that the Post Office ought to pay on an overall basis.
If it ought to pay on an overall basis, surely the making of some contribution towards future capital expansion is not outside of that concept. On a normal interpretation of those words, it would be included in it.
The Postmaster-General’s Department is predominantly a business undertaking, but in part - a small part - it does supply a social service. Some of its services could never pay. Everyone realizes this, and I do not think any one would try to make each individual service of the Post Office pay on its own merits. In some country areas the department establishes rural exchanges which could never be expected to pay. The bulk postage system, by which country newspapers are posted, could never pay. Most certainly, if those newspapers were charged the full cost of handling, which has been estimated at 6d. for each copy, many of them would go out of existence. For this reason, I was very glad indeed to see the modifications that the Government made of its original proposals. It has been suggested by some honorable members, including, I think, the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley), that the Government showed weakness in changing its mind. They implied that this was a sign of muddled thinking, and that it showed that the Government did not know exactly where it stood in relation to this matter. I prefer to regard the change that has been made as a sign of courage on the part of the Government, which was prepared to admit that it was wrong after further evidence came to light. I cannot see how the charge made by the honorable member for Fremantle could bc sustained.
A committee has been appointed to examine the accounts of the department, and I believe that this is a thoroughly sound move. Let me suggest to the committee that it might be beneficial to publish the details of costs of each particular service, and, where a service is subsidized, to show what the subsidy is. These subsidies could, perhaps, be shown in a separate section of the Post Office accounts. 1 put this suggestion forward because I think that if certain services are subsidized, as they are, every one should know exactly what the subsidy is, how it is arranged, and the reasons for it.
Even if criticism of the accounting methods of the department can be made, no criticism can be levelled, I believe, at the performance of the department, within the limits of its funds, over the last few years. It is worth considering that during the last ten years annual gross private investment has increased by 240 per cent., public authority investment by 237 per cent., but Post Office investment by only 185 per cent. The Post Office has had a slightly smaller proportion of the general increase in investment over the last ten years than have public authorities and private investors. But within the limits of the funds made available, the Post Office has done a remarkable job, in establishing new exchanges - more than 1,000 new country automatic exchanges - in doubling trunkline channels and in handling 500,000,000 extra postal articles annually. Over the last three years, 250,000 new subscribers have been connected to the service and I understand that a further 16,000 will be connected in this year. The progress and development over the last ten years has been quite remarkable, but with it the efficiency of the department has increased. Over the last ten years, the number of articles posted has increased by 45 per cent, and the number of trunk lines by 81 per cent., but the staff has increased by only one-third. On the other hand, the basic wage has increased by nearly 250 per cent, since 1939, but the letter rate in that time has increased by only 100 per cent, .and the charge for telephone calls by only 140 per cent. Increased technical capacity and modern handling methods have contributed to this increased efficiency, comparative lowering of costs and provision of benefits to the general public.
The postal charges that are now being debated in this House are partly the result of new policies leading to a re-organization of the whole of the Postmaster-General’s Department throughout Australia and a preparation for more mechanical aids which alone, in present circumstances, can keep costs down. Unless this policy is pursued into the future, I understand that additional expenditure amounting to £35,000,000 or £40,000,000 will be incurred in the next ten years in increased handling costs. One of the ultimate aims of this policy is a national subscriber-to-subscriber dialling service, which will be of inestimable benefit, as every one realizes.
Two features of these proposals are ot special benefit to rural areas, and I should like to draw the attention of honorable members to them. They should be noted particularly by those honorable members who have had doubts as to the overall benefits that will ultimately come from this bill. The first is the abolition of the airmail surcharge. With respect, I cannot agree with my friend, the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen). 1 believe that in a country of the size of Australia we owe a duty to the people in outback and inland areas to try to get their mail delivered to them as quickly as possible without extra charge. In most instances, this means the use of airmail. In some small measure, this proposal makes up for the lack of some of the facilities that are available to people living in the metropolitan areas. The second point is of particular importance and concerns the zoning of several local telephone exchanges into the one area. In that zone, calls will be on a local fee and untimed basis. That will be a particular benefit because probably 85 per cent, or 90 per cent, of all calls made through small country exchanges, of which there are thousands, are now treated as trunk calls and under these proposals, which will operate from 1st May, many of them will become local calls. There will, therefore, be a considerable saving to the subscribers. When these exchanges are being arranged in zones, I hope that the department will do its utmost to ensure that each small exchange is grouped with its nearest business centre. Unless that is done, much of the benefit that could come from this measure will most certainly be lost.
It was suggested a short time ago that the new letter rate of 5d. put Australia into a class by itself and that many other charges should be much lower than they now are. America was given as an example of a cheaper service. I think America is a very bad example to choose because, for political reasons, governments in the United States of America have never, as they should have, increased postal charges. As a result, the postal services there are in a deplorable state compared with other services that are available in that great country. It should be realized that the postal services in the United States are distinct from the telephone services, which are run separately by various large private concerns. But Australia is certainly not in a class by itself so far as these charges are concerned. In Canada, a country comparable to Australia in many ways, the ordinary surface rate is about 5±d., and this is even more than the rate which will operate in Australia under these proposals. The Canadians have not the benefit of being able to send their mail by air without a surcharge. The airmail rate in Canada is about 7d. Therefore, the Australian rates will still be considerably below the Canadian rates.
I was particularly glad, as I think I mentioned earlier, to learn that the Government had the courage to revise its original bulk postage proposals. If the original proposals had remained, the existence of many small country newspapers, which provide a valuable service in their localities, would have been jeopardized. It was suggested by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports that considerable objection had been taken to these rates. It is quite true that considerable objection was raised to the rates as they were originally introduced. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports referred to the signatories to certain letters that he, and I think every honorable member, had received, but to my knowledge those letters all objected to the original proposals. I have not heard of one valid objection being raised since the Government has announced its modifications, especially since the Government announced that it was prepared to drop the 2d. minimum for each article, a charge which would have struck right at the principle of bulk postage. However, since the modifications have been announced, I have not heard of any one valid objection to the proposals as they now stand. I think most people are realistic and understand the necessity for these things to be done, however unpleasant they may be.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I believe that over the last decade the Post Office has boldly and with vigour met the challenge of, and difficulties created by, a rapidly expanding Australia. If these proposals are unpalatable at present, they are nevertheless necessary if the Post Office is to remain a vital and active force. They are necessary if it is to cover its commercial transactions. Without the increases, there would be a loss of £4,000,000, and I believe it is right for the Government to decide that the Post Office should make some small contribution - it is only a small contribution - to the future capital expansion of this great department. It means only that the user, instead of the taxpayer, will pay. Whichever way it goes, the Australian people must pay and I think it is fair enough that the user should pay some part and that the taxpayer should not be left with the whole burden. It should be remembered that these increased charges are accompanied by greatly improving services, and they embody particular benefits for rural areas through the new postal and telephone policies. I have pleasure in supporting the bill.
.- In the many years that I have had the privilege to be a member of this Parliament, I have never heard a government seared by such severe criticism as that offered by honorable members during the debate on this bill.
In an excellent speech, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) described the unfortunate way in which this legislation will affect the community and outlined what is involved in the bill. This measure appears to be another example of the Government’s policy of placing heavier burdens on those with lower incomes while relieving the wealthier sections of the community. The application of this policy to the Postal Department and its services means actually more indirect taxation upon a wider section of the people. Consolidated revenue will thus be relieved of the necessity to draw from those who contribute largely by way of income tax.
There is a wide difference between the application of direct taxation and indirect taxation. Those who contribute chiefly by direct taxation are levied according to their capacity to pay. Income tax is based on a graduated scale and the wealthier persons pay the higher rates of tax. But everybody in the community pays exactly the same postal, telephone and telegraph charges. A 5d. stamp bought by an age pensioner carries exactly the same amount of taxation as does a similar purchase by a wealthy person. Therefore, the proposed new imposts will place heavier burdens on more people who are least able to bear them. I agree with the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bandidt) that the application of the new policy to the Postal Department is quite irregular. The objective of the Postal Department is to provide means of quick communication between all sections of the community, but this Government wants to make the Postal Department a taxing machine. It seeks from the people income that will swell the general revenue of the nation as well as enabling the Postal Department to discharge its obligations and make provision for the future. The case that has been put by the honorable member for Wide Bay is well worthy of our attention.
Australia will now be in the unenviable position of imposing some of the highest charges in the world for postal services. This clearly indicates how inflation has gripped this country. It also shows how seriously we are suffering by having this Government in office. The Government has given little or no consolation to those who seek to husband the resources of the nation and to spread its benefits as wide as possible in the community. The Government has made no attempt to relieve those who are least able to bear the burden by spreading this financial responsibility among those who can best afford to pay.
The Government proposes to transport practically all first class mail by air. That simply gives big business an advantage at the expense of the community generally. The postage rate for air-mail, in effect, is to be reduced from 7d. to 5d. and the permissible weight of a letter to be carried by air-mail is to be doubled. The fact is, however, that the air-mail service is used principally by commercial and business houses. The ordinary people do not use the air-mail services with any regularity. They might send a letter by air in urgent cases, but do not do so as a rule. The effect of the Government’s proposal will be to reduce the postal costs of business houses and commercial interests whilst the deficiency is met by the impost of Id. on general postal charges. In this respect, as I indicated earlier, the obligation to pay at the higher rate has been removed from those who are best able to pay and spread more widely. In addition, because the carriage of mail matter is to be taken away from the railway services, they will be denied revenue that they previously enjoyed. Consequently, the various State governments will need to be reimbursed, either directly or indirectly, to make good the loss. It may be found in the future that the railways are incurring greater losses than would have been the case had Commonwealth departments made greater use of railway facilities. That being so, I suggest that the Government is going about the matter is entirely the wrong way.
I think there is every justification in the demand of honorable members on this side of the House that a committee be appointed to examine various aspects of the Postal Department. Such a committee could report to the Minister and ultimately, I presume, to the Parliament in regard to the future operations of the Postal Department and appropriate charges for the services that are provided by it. We could await the presentation of the committee’s report with the knowledge that a better approach was being made to postal matters than that involved in the present rather slipshod method that the Government has adopted. I earnestly request further consideration of these proposals. I hope that it will be possible for the Minister to defer the operation of this legislation, so that the Parliament may have the benefit of the report of the committee to which I have referred. In addition, I should like to have the Auditor-General’s report and to know his ideas regarding certain aspects of the postal organization.
I wish to bring to the notice of the Minister the very unsatisfactory state of affairs regarding the future needs of the Post Office of materials essential for the expansion of certain services, particularly in the telephonic department. Because of Jack of supplies, the Australian community has been denied services that are urgently required. We should be assured that postal services will keep pace with the rapid development and industrial expansion that is occurring in this country. Unfortunately, this Government has adopted a policy of living from day to day, as it were, in regard to the ordering of materials, instead of displaying vision as to the future needs of the country. The Government should evolve a plan so that over a period of five or ten years it will be able to provide much better postal services and to extend those services to the people who require them.
Because of all the matters to which I have referred, I believe that this legislation leaves much to be desired. My comments have referred to the general administrative policy of the Government in regard to the affairs of the Postal Department. I hope that the House will reject this legislation and that we shall see instead a new and a better policy for the Post Office. I trust that the Minister will have the wisdom to withdraw the legislation and provide better proposals in regard to a matter that is most important in our community life.
.- Mr. Speaker-
Motion (by Mr. Davidson) proposed-
That the question be now put.
Question put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . . . 25
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . 28
– It is in order.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (First Schedule).
.- As has been indicated, this clause is only a part of the subject-matter that was considered by the House. For the reasons given during the second-reading debate it is, in effect, impossible to sever the particular increased charges which are contemplated here from the whole subject-matter of increases. As was pointed out - and this has not been answered effectively by any member of the Government - of every £3 of increase that is contemplated, £2 does not go to the day-to-day activity of the Post Office at all; it goes back into the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Australian Government.
We were twitted during the secondreading debate for having shifted our views in 1959 from the views that we were supposed to have held in 1949, namely, that we no longer regard the Post Office as a business undertaking or an instrumentality to be treated on a businesslike basis. That skilfully attempts to dodge what is the issue, or the major part of the difference between us in this debate, that is, that there has been intruded into the Post Office after 59 years an entirely new cost. It is not a business cost at all, and there is a wide difference of opinion about it both here and, as I shall indicate in a moment, in other parts of the world on the same grounds.
Government supporters have sought to make a great deal of capital about a few words that I spoke during a Public Accounts Committee investigation four or five years ago. I must say that I am sincerely flattered to think that those few words apparently smack more of Holy Writ than the expressions both of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and of the Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia (Mr. Harold Holt) as recently as four months ago. The question that still has not been answered is: Why has the change of view taken place on the part of the Government between the Premiers’ Conference of March of this year and the present time?
During the course of the second-reading debate, it seemed to me that the Government attempted to shift the ground of its argument. When it was pinned down on the fact that it was intruding into Post Office finance the new principle that interest should be charged on the capital as a whole - I think one had every reason to believe that to be so from the words in the Trea surer’s Budget speech in August last - we were told that that was not exactly what was meant at all. We were informed that what was really meant - and I suggest that on examination this is just as suspect a doctrine as the one of charging no interest on the capital as a whole - is that to-day’s tariffs should have added in an element to cover future capital costs. I think it ought to be observed by those who have examined the structure of the commercial accounts that the main difference of opinion between the Auditor-General and the PostmasterGeneral’s Department on the commercial accounts is not upon the validity of the bookkeeping at all but upon certain accounting principles as to what should and should not be included in the accounts for comparison. But we are told that in addition to the depreciation and some interest charges that are included in everybody’s tariff now, a new component should be included, not for the existent capital but for new capital - in other words, that in the price of to-day’s telephone, or to-day’s letter, or to-day’s telegram shall be included a component of cost to provide for the expansion of demand in the future.
That is a principle that requires just as serious examination as did the one as to whether or not interest should be charged on capital which originally bore no cost because it was raised from the revenue. I direct the attention of the committee to what I regard as two authoritative views on this matter. One is the view of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank who expressed it at the Congress of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science held at Perth on 26th August, 1959. I ask members of the Country Party particularly to note the implications of his statement -
Another important element in the pricing policy of industrialists and traders is their belief that selling prices should be sufficient to provide not merely cover for costs of production . . . but also a substantial part of the additional capital required for expansion.
He went on to add -
In recent years this tendency in pricing policy has been extended to include major public instrumentalities, with consequential increases in prices of services to consumers.
That is one point of view, critical of the charging of an element of cost in to-day’s prices to allow for capital expansion in the future. An equally authoritative view comes from what is known as the Herbert committee, which was set up in Great Britain and which, I suggest, made in advance the sort of examination that should have been made by this Government. It was hinted at in the Treasurer’s speech, but he prejudged the matter by putting the tariff on in the first place. The full title of the Herbert Committee was: A Committee of Inquiry into the Electricity Supply Industry. In its report, number 9672, published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office in 1956, the committee stated -
We have next asked ourselves whether the industry referring to the electricity undertaking - should seek to do any more in making provision for the future than is needed to cover depreciation adequately. . . . We now consider whether consumers should be asked to pay prices which would enable the industry to do any more in a given year than cover costs, including depreciation, calculated as closely as possible.
The committee stated at paragraph 342 of its report -
This brings us to our third topic,
I ask honorable members particularly to note this -
In private industry many of the most successful concerns have been largely built up from profits ploughed back.
Although in conditions of high taxation, this is no longer as easy as it was, it is still a major source of finance. We have to ask whether a publicly owned industry ought similarly to finance itself substantially out of its own income, i.e., out of the prices paid by its customers.
In our opinion, publicly owned electricity undertakings -
I submit there is no difference from a monopoly-owned Post Office - should not go beyond the limits described in paragraph 341.
That was, that there should perhaps be imposed an annual average charge of say 1 per cent, on the capital employed to cover contingencies such as a fall in demand, and that sort of thing. The paragraph goes on -
If a private undertaking manages in active competition or against potential competition to win large profits, these profits are, so to speak, the price of success . . .the profits have been won in competition, and their disposition is not a matter with which the customers have any concern.
Any profit ploughed back because the directors consider it prudent to withhold a portion as capital for future expansion is virtually a compulsory investment of the shareholders’ money. It is not a compulsory provision of future capital requirements by the consumers. The electricity supply industry-
Put the Post Office in its place - however, is neither principally owned nor operating in a fully competitive market. The demand for electric power is strong and rising.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I want to speak, not about general principles, but about the proposed new First Schedule, which is dealt with in clause 3. The first item in the Schedule reads -
From the answer given to a question which I asked earlier to-day the Government has apparently considered and approved the idea of sending every letter by airmail but, in accordance with ordinary democratic procedures, some reply to criticism raised during the second-reading debate is usually given by the Minister. If that is not possible the reply is given in committee when clause 1 is reached, and at no other place. I am not accusing the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) of discourtesy in this instance, but Ministers who neglect to reply in such circumstances are almost guilty of contempt of Parliament.
The reason for the proposed change may bc that the Government wants to increase the postage rate by Id. and in return therefor is prepared to accept the loss of nearly £1,500,000, which will result from all letters being sent by airmail. Perhaps the Government believes that the proposed increase of Id. in the ordinary postage rate will offset the aggregate losses incurred by the department in connexion with mail deliveries. Certainly it is obvious that the change has not been prompted by public demand. The fact that the public does not want every letter to be sent by air is shown by the statistics. Only 7 per cent, of our present internal mail goes by air. Only that percentage of the people are prepared to pay the surcharge which will guarantee extra quick delivery, yet we are now told that every letter is to be sent by airmail and that this will increase the existing loss by £1,450,000. That seems to me to be uneconomic; it seems to be crazy. It has not been asked for, and I do not know what is the reason for it. I am asking for that reason.
– The Government wants to. help Ansett.
– I do not: think it would help Ansett-A.N.A. any more than Trans-Australia Airlines. In any event it would increase the cost by £367,000, according to the Minister’s own figures, which does not account for the total loss, of £1,450,000. I sincerely ask why we are going to increase our losses at a time when the Treasury has said that revenue must be increased. Perhaps, but for the airmail proposal it would have been necessary to increase ordinary postage to 4id. only, or not to have increased bulk postage rates so greatly. The whole thing seems to me to be inexplicable, and criticism of it has been unanswered. It seems crazy to increase one’s loss by a further £1,450,000. Last year the loss was £2,500,000. Why should we increase the loss this year merely for the sake of doing something that no one wants? The Government might at least answer that query satisfactorily. I know that every one sends mail by the quickest possible route, but apparently that attitude does not extend to airmail. Only 7 per cent, of local mail is sent by air, but as much as 75 per cent, of overseas mail - where long sea voyages are involved - goes by that means. However, I imagine that all that mail is subject to the surcharge of approximately 2s. The proposed increase might add a penny to the overseas airmail charge, but it will not alter the other surcharge. The extent to which overseas airmail is used shows how people who want their letters to go quickly are prepared to pay a very high surcharge. When we look at the internal position we find that people will not pay a small surcharge of 3d., except for 7 per cent, of the letters that they send.
This is an important budgetary proposal and therefore I do not intend to vote against it. I have been in politics long enough not to do that. I was very amused to hear the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Uren) take me to task for not voting against this measure after I had criticized it. He said that I was speaking with my tongue in my cheek. Though he did not actually say it on. the floor of this chamber, it is well known that, when he became a member of this Parliament, he said, “ ! have a job. for life as long as I follow the dictates of my party “. He need not. protest. He will have to learn to take, it if he. wishes to attack people on this side.
I said at the outset that I was not going to vote against an important Government measure but, as a backbencher, I ask the Government to be honest with us and not just brush off a query in the way that ii has. I ask why this has been done. It has not been demanded by the public. Why should we budget for a further loss of £1,500,000 and, at the same time, charge an extra penny for conveying a letter - which may only be going to another place in the same suburb? I ask the Minister for a full explanation.
– I would like to begin by assuring the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) that neither I nor the Government has any intention of brushing aside any query raised during the second-reading debate. I did not reply at that stage because, as honorable members will have observed, it became necessary, if we were to put this bill through to-night, to gag the secondreading debate. That, of course, prevented the Minister who opened the debate from also closing it. I had every intention of replying when the clauses of the bill were under consideration. The debate on the second reading was terminated at 5 o’clock because I wanted time to explain all the points that have been raised, including the assertion by the honorable member for Chisholm and others that this is not a forward step, and was not desired by the public generally.
One reason why only 7 per cent, of internal mail is carried by air is surely that people do not want to pay the surcharge that at present exists. I have no doubt that its removal will be greatly appreciated, by country folk especially. This proposal cannot fail to result in a much speedier delivery of at least 23 per cent, or 73 per cent, of mail of that class. I remind honorable members of the procedure that must be followed in sending letters from outlying areas, especially on the seaboard, to the larger cities. First of all, it must be carried by a road mail service, then by train to an inland or coastal city and then on to its destination. As we know, it often takes days - sometimes a week - for a letter to complete its journey. Under- this proposal most mail of that kind will be delivered within 24 hours. I stand by my claim that that is a great improvement in our service, and that it will be highly appreciated once it has been experienced. This move is in accordance with developments in other major countries which are tending more and more to the nearly complete carriage of mail matter by air wherever possible.
But it has another aspect which is a definite advantage as far as the department’s work and efficiency are concerned. It will considerably reduce the departmental work of sorting and enable much more rapid clearances and avoid great accumulation of mails. This has become a very great problem in most of our main centres. lt will result in the better despatch of a great volume of mail. So far as the department is concerned, that is a very strong reason for the adoption of this proposal, and one which, in itself, justifies its introduction, particularly seeing that we are cutting out the airmail surcharge of 3d. and adding only 1d. to the actual letter rate.
In further explanation of this aspect, I may say that conferences have taken place between the department and the airline companies, because it had been suggested that they may not be able to carry the extra mail and as a consequence some accumulation might accrue and the expected speeding up would not take place. I assure the committee that these conferences have been proceeding and the airlines have intimated that they will co-operate to the utmost in meeting the department’s requirements. They say that, if necessary, extra services could be provided, including probably night freighter services to ensure that all the mail offering from the post offices is carried by the airlines.
– This will mean bigger railway deficits.
– I thank the honorable member for that comment because I was just about to proceed to another aspect of this matter.
– How long does the Minister intend to take on this contribution? Other honorable members want to speak during the committee stage, too.
– I allowed honorable members to speak without interruption during the second-reading stage.
– How long do you expect to go now?
– Until I finish this explanation.
– Then I move -
That the honorable member be not further heard.
He had no right to gag the second-reading debate at 5 o’clock, and now he is trying to make a second-reading speech in committee.
– Order! The honorable member must be silent or he will not be heard, either.
Question put -
That the honorable member be not further heard.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. G. J. Bowden.)
Majority . . 25
Question so resolved in the negative.
That the honorable member be no longer heard.
Motion (by Mr. Calwell) agreed to -
That the question be now put.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
That I report the bill without amendment.
Mr. Uren. - Mr. Chairman, I wish to make a personal explanation.I was misrepresented by the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes).
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Davidson) - by leave - put -
That the bill be now read a third time.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . 23
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Message received from the Senate intimating that it concurred in the resolution transmitted to it by the House of Representatives in the following terms: -
That the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory or any sub-committee thereof, when considering certain matters relating to an all-weather road between Canberra and Tumut which were referred to the committee on 14th May, 1959, have power to adjourn from place to place.
– Mr. Speaker. I wish to make a personal explanation. The honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) has quoted me as saying that I have a seat for life provided that I follow the dictates of my party. The honorable member knows that that is an untruth. It is a well-known fact that in the Labour Party one has the right to express his views within caucus but irrespective of his views one abides by the decisions arrived at by caucus. My remark to the honorable member for Chisholm to the effect that if he had raised a certain matter in his own caucus he need not have raised it here, apparently stirred him up.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from 3rd September (vide page 933), on motion by Mr. Roberton -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Australian Labour Party I shall move an amendment to this motion which will make every member of the House say by his vote whether he regards the rates of pension, child endowment and other social service payments as being adequate or inadequate. In our view, the rates are inadequate, some of them grossly so. Some Liberal Party and Australian Country Party members have allowed themselves in recent days to be publicised as sharing that view. This amendment will show to the country, therefore, whether or not they are genuine. I hope that they are. I now move, Sir, -
That all words after “ That “ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ the bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide rates of social service payments adequate to present living costs and representing a fair and reasonable share of the national income, such rates to take effect from the first pension payday in July, 1959”.
The amendment does not name any rates. Therefore, it does not give members opposite the opportunity of saying, “ We consider that the rates should be higher, but not as high as you propose “. There can always be differences of opinion as to what ought to be the exact rate of pension in this country, but the question of whether or not the rates proposed by the Government are adequate permits a simple answer, and that is the question that we are submitting to the House by this amendment.
– It is very tricky.
– To the devious mind of the honorable member for Mallee, I suggest, all things may be tricky, but to most people this would appear as being a very simple and straightforward amendment. But I trust it will place the honorable member in no dilemma whatever, since, as I believe, he considers the rates of pension at present to be inadequate. I hope that he will show the strength of his belief by voting with us to demonstrate his view to the Government.
– I did not say I thought they were inadequate. What are you talking about?
– Then I gather from the honorable member that he regards all the present rates of social service payments as being adequate?
– I have not said so.
– The honorable member will have an opportunity of saying so in a little while.
– Which vote would you reduce in order to pay for this?
– There is no question of reducing a vote. The honorable member needs a little more experience. If honorable members opposite who are members of the Government’s social services committee and who have accepted wide publicity as being dissatisfied with this bill, will now match their words by their actions, the responsibility will be upon the Government to re-examine all social service payments and to bring down proposals which this Parliament will accept as adequate.
Such a re-examination could be made very quickly, but to ensure that no pensioner will be at a loss as a result of any delay, the amendment provides that the new rates of payment shall be dated back to the first pension pay-day in July last. Who in this House will dare to object to making pension increases retrospective? The Government back-dated the increase in parliamentary salaries, and every one of us accepted it. If it was right to do that for parliamentarians, then it is right to do it for the aged, the invalid and the widows of this country. Because this issue of retrospective payments is so important, we shall, if our amendment is defeated at the second-reading stage, move a specific amendment in committee to provide simply for the pension increase of 7s. 6d. a week embodied in this bill to operate not from some date next month but from the first pension pay-day in July.
In other years, the Labour Party has sought, by amendment to the motion for the second reading, to compel this Government to honour its pre-election pledge to maintain the value of all social services. No pledge has been more grossly dishonoured than that pledge solemnly given by the leader of this Government. If it were kept, the increase in pension rate would have to be at least double that which is now proposed, and child endowment would have to be 10s. a week for the first child and over £1 for each subsequent child. Similarly, there would have to be large increases in maternity allowance, funeral benefit and other social service rates which the Government has left unchanged while their money value has been eaten away by inflation.
It has, of course, been proper to endeavour to force the Government to honour its social service pledge. But members opposite have taken refuge for years past in all kinds of side-issues to evade the challenge presented to them by that kind of amendment. Moreover, ten years have passed since the Government first made that pledge. The Government has since been re-elected on several occasions and, in addition, the recent buoyant movement in the national economy justifies a new look at the social service rates. It therefore seems proper now to bring this issue to a head with a direct amendment of a kind which no Government member can evade and which seeks an adequate rate in relation to present national income. Members, by their vote, will be called upon simply to say whether they consider the Government’s rates adequate in all the present circumstances of this nation.
During ten years this Government has allowed Australia to go back in social service provisions while other countries have gone forward. Its promise to abolish the means test remains completely dishonoured. It has inflicted cruel hardship on the most necessitous of our people and it has dealt a savage blow at the welfare of the family. Liberal and Australian Country Party members may feel as complacent as they look, because despite this record of betrayal they have been repeatedly re-elected to office. To some Labour men and women who took pride in the social service achievements of the Labour Government, the virtual destruction in recent times of so much that was accomplished during those great years when Labour was in office might be disheartening. Certainly, to the many folk in this country struggling desperately to make ends meet on inadequate social service payments, the’ continuing delay of justice must indeed be discouraging.
Nevertheless, the dictum of Abraham Lincoln still remains true, and the day of reckoning for this Government will not be delayed any longer than the next election. The news from Lismore is a remarkable sign of the times and Labour supporters everywhere have reason for fresh confidence and renewed efforts. An ensuing Labour government will give new impetus to the drive for social progress which this Government has halted. The vital interest of the Labour Party in this aspect of policy is shown by the recent decision of the Australian Labour Party federal conference to establish a national social services committee. F om this committee will come far-reaching recommendations for social service improvements to be implemented by the next federal Labour government. Then Australia, under Labour’s banner, will take her place again among the foremost nations in the social services field.
At this stage, Mr. Speaker, I should like to refer to some features of the Minister’s second-reading speech. It was surely utterly beside the point for the Minister to claim proudly that this was the seventh successive increase in pension rates made by the present Government. The number of increases made by the Government shows only how inflation has continued during all those years. The real test is not the number of increases made by the Government, but the amount of those increases. By that test invalid and age pensioners have endured a decline in their living standards in every year of this Government’s term of office.
Official figures show that the individual age and invalid pensioner is to-day receiving a smaller share of the national income than he was twenty years ago. In 1939, the amount paid in age and invalid pensions totalled 2.3 per cent, of Australia’s national income. This year, the total is 2.6 per cent., an increase of 0.3 per cent., but during that time the proportion of the total population which is in the pensionable age group has increased by more than 10 per cent. During the same period the proportion of those of pensionable age who are actually receiving the pension has increased from 37 per cent, to 46 per cent. This means a substantial increase in the number of persons sharing in the pension pay-out and thus a drop in the share of the national income received by each individual pensioner.
I suggest that even the Minister’s supporters in this House must have found it hard indeed to stomach his brazen statement during his second-reading speech that the increase of 7s. 6d. a week now proposed will ra:se the real value of the age and invalid pension to a record level.
It has been repeatedly shown that during the term of this Government the pension has declined as a percentage of the basic wage. An even sharper decline is shown where the pension is expressed as a percentage of weekly earnings. By whatever standard the position is judged, the pension is inadequate to meet present living costs and does not represent a fair and reasonable share of the national income. As I have said, it is claimed that this view is shared by many back-bench members of the Government parties. I have seen - I have no doubt that most honorable members have seen it - wide publicity given in the press to the statement that the fifteen members of the Government’s social services committee are dissatisfied with this bill; that they regard the increase of 7s. 6d. as inadequate; that they refer to the Minister for Social Services as “ Mr. Humbug “, and that they are prepared to challenge him during this debate. Well, they will be given an opportunity to live up to their publicity by their vote on the amendment that I propose to move on behalf of the Opposition.
– What a disappointment for you!
– I understand that the Minister is ready for this challenge, if I am to judge by the statements in the press in the last few days, and it is a question whether he will be disappointed or whether his colleagues behind him will be disappointed. Opinions may differ as to what the exact rate of pensions should be, but on this occasion honorable members opposite will not be able to get out of it that way. They will have to vote on an amendment that brands the present pension and other social service payments as inadequate. How will they vote? It will be very interesting to see, after they have accepted the publicity that brands them as Hons ready to challenge the Minister.
Mr. Elwyn Spratt, writing in the Sydney “ Sun “ on Tuesday last, said -
Now it is up to Mr. Wilson and his colleagues of the Government’s Social Services Committee to take up the challenge that the Minister is anticipating. If they fail to do so then they - not the Minister - will be guilty of humbugging.
In his speech the Minister dared to refer to the provision for supplementary assistance to pensioners. I say “ dared “ deliberately because this so-called supplementary provision is surely the greatest fraud ever perpetrated in the history of social services in this country. Over 80’ per cent, of pensioners in Australia are dependent entirely on their pensions. Yet only 14 per cent, can qualify for this supplementary assistance! The record speaks for itself. This is not a plan to provide supplementary assistance at all. lt is a plan to shut people out from obtaining supplementary assistance, and this is done in the crudest way by raising their hopes and then disappointing them by denying them this assistance on the ground of any one of the dozen different rigid rules that operate to prevent them from obtaining it.
If a man receives a pension and his wife receives a dependant’s allowance they have a total income of pension and allowance of £6. 2s. 6d. a week. But if they apply for supplementary assistance they are shut out, even though they are paying rent and have not a penny more of other income. Where could there be greater hardship than a man and a woman trying to live together on £6 2s. 6d. a week and having to pay rent out of that amount?
A pensioner who can pass all the other tests can receive supplementary assistance if his other income does not exceed 10s. a week. If his income is 10s. a week he can receive an additional 10s. by way of supplementary assistance. But if his income is 10s. 6d. a week - an additional 6d. - he is cut off from the 10s. supplementary assistance. It is difficult to imagine a more harsh provision in any Australian legislation.
– The Labour Party did nothing about this when it was in power.
– We did not provide supplementary assistance, but we provided an adequate pension rate in comparison with the rate this Government is now providing. I am not quarrelling with the principle of supplementary assistance. I think that supplementary assistance is necessary in this country in to-day’s conditions, but I am quarrelling, and every honorable member should quarrel, with a scheme as cruel and harsh as is this scheme.
Take another example. A widow may be struggling to keep up repayments on a house, yet even though she has no source of income except her pension, she is shut out from supplementary assistance on the ground that she is not paying rent. Het hardship may be more intolerable, her repayments on the house and her payments in rates may be far more than she would have to pay in rent, but she is completely shut out from supplementary assistance on the ground that she is not paying rent. I say that such a provision is brutal and stupid. I am glad to have the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. Malcolm McColm) saying “ Hear! hear! “ to my remarks, and I hope that the Opposition will have his support when this matter is decided by vote. It is sufficiently amazing that such an unjustly restrictive plan was ever introduced. That it should be continued without alteration after months of experience have shown its glaring deficiencies seems to me to be incredible. There seems to be no description to apply other than that this scheme is fraudulent and designed to shut people out from supplementary assistance rather than to provide them with it.
When the Minister came to deal with widows’ pensions he made great play of the amount of outside income which he said a widow with children would now be able to receive. For example, he said that a widow with three children will receive a pension of £6 a week and will be able to have other income of £5 a week and child endowment of £1 5s. a week, making her total receipts £12 5s. a week. Such reasoning as that seems to me to come from cloud-land or bird-land or some other equally unreal place.
– Yes, Disneyland. Of course, if the widow has outside income of £5 a week from some source she will have a total income of £12 5s. a week. But how many widows with three children are able to go out and earn £5 a week? Very few indeed. The fact which the Minister is obscuring is the dreadful fact that in Australia to-day a widow with three children to keep is compelled to endeavour to maintain her family not on £12 5s. a week but on £7 5s. a week. She is supposed to live and rear her three children on £7 5s. a week, including child endowment.
– And pay rent as well.
– Yes, and pay rent as well.
– She would get child welfare assistance as well, in Victoria.
– I am glad to know that the Government of Victoria, like the Government of New South Wales, would do something to assist, but does the honorable member think that excuses this Government from doing its duty towards the civilian widow? The position of the civilian widow with children is simply tragic to-day, and it has been brought about largely by the Government’s refusal to make any adjustment whatever to child endowment rates.
If there is one charge which this Government can in no way evade it is that it has deliberately set out to destroy the system of child endowment in Australia. The Minister has claimed that the Government has made seven increases in the rate of age and invalid pensions. But it has never made one increase in the rate of child endowment! The Minister has pointed to the C series index as the measure by which pension rates should be determined.
– I did not.
– The Minister has frequently done so.
– I have never done so.
– The Minister and the Government have for ten years ignored the C series index in relation to child endowment. They have ignored the basic wage, they have ignored the C series index, they have ignored everything relating to living costs in Australia and they have refused to make any increase of any kind whatever in child endowment. Yet there is not one honorable member in this House who would dare publicly to declare himself against child endowment! I have thrown down this challenge before, and I do so again: If there is one honorable member of the House who is against child endowment, let him say so!
Any government that proposed legislation to cut child endowment in half would be annihilated, but the fact is that this Government has achieved the halving of child endowment by simply doing nothing while inflation has steadily eaten away the value of child endowment payments. And every honorable member who has stood by has supported the Government in deliberately allowing child endowment to be cut in half.
– Did you not oppose an extension of child endowment in 1950?
– The Lang Labour Government in New South Wales was the first government in Australia to introduce child endowment. The Curtin and Chifley Labour Governments successively increased the rate for the second and subsequently children from 7s. 6d. to 10s. a week, and the Labour Party in the Senate moved in 1950 to make the rate for the first child 10s. a week instead of 5s. The honorable member knows that to be true. The larger the family, the greater the injury that is done by the refusal to adjust child endowment. So that families with four, five or more children are to-day visited with severe economic punishment merely for being large families. And this in the very country which needs large families and pretends to be encouraging them! The discouragement of large families, the infliction of economic punishment on large families, is, of course, opposed to the true welfare of this nation. It is in utter contrast with the immigration programme, and it destroys the very basis upon which the child endowment system was established in this country.
It is true that in 1941 the Menzies Government was driven to extend child endowment nationwide because of the statement from the arbitration bench that otherwise the basic wage would be increased by 6s. a week. But the point I want to make is that in the debate that then took place in this House, the intervention by the Government to promote what it called a family wage was hailed by all parties as being an act of social justice. The Government then proclaimed its recognition of the fact that children were an asset to this nation, and gave an assurance at that time that the family which accepted its responsibility of rearing young Australian children could look to the nation for a measure of support in their maintenance. In the light of the attitude as Treasurer to-day it is bitterly ironical to recall some of the glowing words of Mr. Harold Holt when he introduced the child endowment bill into this Parliament eighteen years ago. On that occasion, he said -
Honorable members are asked to look at this measure as a means of providing that, no matter how the war pinches our incomes, the basic needs of the family will still be satisfied.
Are they being satisfied to-day? Of course they are not! Let honorable members hear some more from what Mr. Harold Holt said in 1941 -
Honorable members are asked to look at this measure as a means of social progress that it is possible to introduce in time of war, and to regard it as a foretaste and pledge of the full reconstruction that will be possible when we can again turn our surplus productive forces to the purpose of peace. Child endowment can be rightly regarded as a profitable national investment.
Those were the words of the present Treasurer when moving the second reading of the Child Endowment Bill in this Parliament eighteen years ago. Governments led by the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) have broken many pledges to the Australian people, but none, I suggest, more blatantly than the pledge which I have just quoted. It is indeed an extraordinary fact that the man who gave that solemn pledge for the Government is now the Treasurer who withholds the funds for any adjustment in child endowment rates, and who indeed, when replying to the Budget debate just a few nights ago made pitiful excuses for allowing the system of child endowment to be totally undermined in this country.
I should like to make one more quotation from that historic child endowment debate of 1941. It is taken from the speech of that great Australian and great Labour leader, Mr. John Curtin, who, in welcoming the child endowment measure, and in congratulating the Minister who introduced it, said -
Thus we shall have the correction of the glaring social anomaly of a large family experiencing privation and making sacrifices which would not have been necessary if the family were not so large. We ought not to regard it as economically inevitable that there must be hardship if there are two, three, or more children in a family.
So spoke Mr. Curtin, and the whole House gave him its agreement at that time.
We have that glaring social anomaly again to-day. No one in this House can deny it. No one can deny that the value of child endowment payments has been more than halved since this Government took office. Every one of us knows that the present payment goes nowhere near meeting the cost of maintaining a child. And, of course, every one of us knows that this destruction of the child endowment system in Australia is in the most ruthless breach of the Government’s promise to maintain the value of this and all other social service payments.
Justice will again be done to the mothers and families of Australia, but it is now clear that it will not be done until Labour is the government of this country after the next election. The Labour Government will give immediate priority to restoring the value of pensions, endowment and all forms of social service payments, and to increasing them to the extent that the national productivity and national prosperity permit.
Let us now turn to the means test, a feature of the social services system which is of vital interest to all who practise thrift during their working life. As the means test now stands, thrift certainly has no reward. Indeed, the possession of a little property to-day can be a veritable curse to the owner. Take the case of an elderly man or woman owning a house in which, for one reason or another, with advancing years, he or she is no longer able to live. That house might be worth £3,000. In that case, the owner would be lucky to be receiving 30s. a week in rent after paying rates and taxes. In fact, he may well receive less than 30s. a week net from that house, yet, under the property means test as it now applies, the possession of that house completely shuts out the owner from age pension which is now to be £4 15s. a week.
– That is not true, of course.
– The Minister says that it not true. I shall quote the case again. A person who owns a house worth £3,000, who is unable to live in it, and who receives from it a net rental of 30s. a week after paying rates and taxes is completely shut out from the age pension of £4 15s. a week.
– It is still not true.
– The Minister says it is not true. Does he not know the operation of the law he administers? Of course, it is true. The property bar is £2,250.
– For a single person.
– Of course. 1 am quoting the case of a single person. The Minister knows this. If he does not know it, he ought to look again at the harshness with which this property means test operates.
Since vacant possession cannot be given, the unfortunate old man or old woman cannot sell the house. The owner might be glad to give it away, but even if he did, he would still be debarred from pension on the ground that he had deliberately divested himself of property, lt may be that a couple strove throughout their working life to save the money to buy their house. Yet, when either the husband or the wife has died, if the remaining partner cannot live alone, ownership of the house simply means that the owner must exist on 30s. a week or less, instead of on £4 15s. a week. Even though the Minister may be ignorant of this, no other member of the House is. Every honorable member must know of many cases similar to the typical one which 1 have quoted.
To my mind, this is a state of affairs which is almost criminal. The present Government is directly responsible for this position, because, instead of honouring its promise to abolish the means test, it has allowed the minimum property bar to remain at £200 for the past nine years of continual inflation. Of course, the Government has raised the upper property limit from time to time. Tt has had to do so as inflation has forced it to raise the rate of pension. But it is the lower limit which is inflicting such cruel hardship on many old people to-day, and the Government has allowed this to remain unchanged during nine years of continual inflation.
The history of the Government in relation to the means test is indeed a history of many promises but no performance. There was the glowing promise made before the 1949 general election, and the two gentlemen who preceded the present Minister as Minister for Social Services repeatedly made glowing references, in their annual speeches on succeeding social services bills, to the Government’s intention to abolish the means test. The present Minister has at least had the grace to be largely silent on the means test question, and this bill lacks any proposal to ease the burden of the means test.
With what hollow laughter, then, must the country have noted that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) yesterday was again promising to do something about the means test, some day, some time. Not this year, certainly, and not next year; but some time, perhaps. Or so the report from the Government party room has it. It has been noised abroad that members of the Government Members Social Services Committee are restive at the Administration’s failure to lift the means test, and that the matter has been raised with the Government. And so the Prime Minister pours out for his followers one more dose of soothing syrup. It had been proclaimed that the members of that committee were ready, like lions, to challenge the Government on this issue in the debate on this bill. What innocent little donkeys they will prove to be if they go along quietly now. We shall wait with great interest to see how they vote.
When the Labour government was in office, it embarked upon a progressive programme to abolish the means test by successive steps, and it had taken three decisive steps in that direction at the time of its defeat. Progress towards that objective in Australia was then halted, but other countries have continued to forge ahead while we have stood still or gone backwards. The position in the United Kingdom and the United States of America is well known. When we look at what has been done in other countries, we see what a price we have paid for the Menzies Government in Australia. How many people know that while we in this country have been told that abolition of the means test is financially impossible both New Zealand and Canada have gone ahead and abolished it? In New Zealand, national superannuation is paid to every man and woman aged 65 or over, free of any means test, and, as from next April, the rate will be £5 Australian a week.
– Is not the age 70?
– I thank the honorable member for his interest, but, in New Zealand, the age for payment, free of means test, is 65. An age pension subject to means test is paid to men and women alike from the age of 60 until they qualify for the means test free payment at 65.
– There is a Labour government over there.
– As the honorable member reminds me, those are benefits received under a Labour government, lt is worth noting that mothers in New Zealand receive child endowment of 18s. 9d., Australian, a week for every child, including the first. These things which we have been told are utterly impossible financially in prosperous Australia have been successfully accomplished in New Zealand.
– What is the tax rate in New Zealand?
– A social service contribution of ls. 6d. in the £1 is levied to finance these benefits.
In Canada, a pension of £6 a week is paid by the Federal Government to mC persons aged 70 or more, completely free of means test. A pension, also of £6 a week, is paid, subject to means test, to persons aged from 65 to 69 years. Both these payments are supplemented by further payments made by the provincial governments. For example, British Columbia pays each pensioner an additional £2 a week. In Canada to-day, 800,000 senior citizens receive the payment of £6 a week from the Federal Government, plus provincial assistance, completely free of any means test, and an additional 90,000 persons receive a similar payment subject to means test.
Mr. Speaker, the Australian Labour Party has a proud record in the field of social services, and at the last general election it presented a detailed programme for social service progress.
– Which the people would not swallow.
– A programme which, on the contrary, gained for the Labour Party a majority of the votes of the Australian people, even though it did not gain us a majority of the seats in the Parliament. Since then, a further substantial increase in the basic wage has occurred and Australia’s economic position has materially improved. Because of both these factors, a Labour government would now be able to make pension payments larger than those that were set out as a minimum in the policy speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt).
It is not the task of the Labour Party now to set out the appropriate rate for each of the various social service payments, but, in the light of the two factors I have mentioned alone, it is clear that the rate of age and invalid pensions to-day should be at least £5 5s. a week, and probably considerably more. It is clear, also, that this rate should be accompanied by a proper measure of supplementary assistance to those in special need. The struggle for existence endured by the pensioner living alone, and with no resources but the pension, can scarcely be imagined. One thinks of Henry Lawson’s words -
The dreadful everlasting strife
For scarcely clothes and meat
In that pent track of living death
The city’s cruel street.
In days such as the present, when by inventive genius and the marvels of automatic machinery, we can produce in overflowing abundance goods to supply all man’s material needs, it seems utterly stupid and senseless - I repeat, utterly stupid and senseless - that hundreds and thousands of men and women, after a lifetime of toil, still have to exist in semistarvation in the midst of potential plenty undreamed of by any previous generation. Yet that is what is happening in our midst. Any one who sees it must surely be impressed by the need to change the system of society which permits that condition of affairs.
A Labour government will be quick to remedy the injustices and remove the hardships now being endured by the pensioners and the families of Australia. In addition, a Labour government will lead this nation towards the goal of complete social security.
For the present, we brand this bill as inadequate, both for the insufficient amount of the pension increase proposed and for the omission of any provision to increase child endowment and other social service rates, and for its failure to take any step towards the amelioration of the means test. We call for the withdrawal of the bill and for its re-drafting to provide social service payments which are adequate to present living costs and which represent a fair share of the national income. It is with that object, Mr. Speaker, that I have moved the amendment to the motion for the second reading.
– I second the motion.
– The speech we have heard from the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) to-night was very similar to the speech he made last year on the same subject. There was no reasoning behind the conclusion that he came to. If honorable members will look at the “ Hansard “ report of the speech he made last year, they will see that he came to the conclusion that the Labour Party could not indicate what the level of the various items of social services should be. He gave what he said was a very good reason for that - namely, that within a very short space of time there was to be a general election. Supporters of the Labour Party were looking forward to the election, when the people would have an opportunity to put them into office. To-night, Sir, the honorable member has suggested that it is not the responsibility of members of the Opposition to indicate what the level of the various items should be, but he has indicated that something will be done after the next general election if the Labour Party is elected.
Year after year we receive from the Labour Party, in regard to social services, nebulous comments which boil down to nothing. During the election campaign last year, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) made certain promises regarding social service benefits. It is not my intention to discuss those promises in detail now. They were made known on many occasions to the nation, and the nation showed in no uncertain manner at the polls what it thought of the Labour proposals.
I propose, Sir, in dealing with the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro to take the last part of it first. It is proposed in the amendment that the rates which are to apply in relation to social services should take effect from the first pension pay-day in July. Apparently honorable members opposite have short memories. In 1948, when the present Government parties were in opposition, it was suggested that there should be retrospective payments of increased pensions, from the first pay-day in July, but Mr. Chifley, who has generally been accepted by the Labour Party as the greatest Treasurer the party has ever produced, said quite definitely that it had never been the policy of a Labour government or of any other government to make increased payments retrospective to 1st July and that, in fact, increases had always been payable from the first pay-day after the requisite legislation became effective. He said he had no intention of acceding to the wishes of the then Opposition. I can assure the honorable member for Eden-Monaro that Mr. Chifley’s attitude was exactly the same as the attitude of the Government to-day.
I come now to the part of the amendment in which it is suggested that social service payments should be adequate to present living costs and should represent a fair and reasonable share of the national income. This, Sir, is an entirely new approach to the basis on which social service payments are adjusted. I have now been in the House for ten years, but this is the first occasion on which I have heard that basis of adjustment put forward. Occasionally we have heard from the Opposition that pensions should be increased by perhaps 10s. or £1 a week, and there has been the odd honorable member opposite who has suggested that pensions should be equivalent to 50 per cent, of the basic wage, but there has never been a suggestion that expenditure on social service benefits should represent a certain percentage of the national income. I want to show to the House and to the nation just how stupid it would be to adopt such a suggestion.
If we look at this matter overall, it ls obvious that, having regard to the varying conditions which apply in the countries of the world, the percentage would be variable. If social service payments were to be calculated as a percentage of the national income, in a country where there was considerable poverty the percentage would have to be much higher than in a country where there was a good deal of affluence and where the people were in receipt of fairly substantial incomes.
What is the percentage suggested by the Labour Party? If it is a percentage that is to apply to this year, it surely must also apply to every year, whether the national income is up or whether it is down. What sort of a situation would be reached under those circumstances? Only a couple of years ago, we had a considerable reduction of farm incomes, which had an effect on the national income. In such circumstances, there would be a reduced amount available for payment of pensions. Who is to determine the level of pensions or other social service benefits in such circumstances? Surely the Labour Party does not suggest that the community as a whole would be satisfied with, that kind of approach, the adoption of which would mean that year after year pensions would be going up and down like a roller blind. I suggest that that is a hopeless proposition for the Opposition to put before the Parliament.
I wish now to make one or two comments in relation to matters that were referred to particularly by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. The first matter that I want to deal with is the statement of the honorable member that the rate of pension we propose to pay this year is grossly inadequate. When the Labour Party presented its policy at the time of the last general election, it suggested that the amount by which the age pension should be increased was 10s. a week. If 10s. a week was regarded as an adequate increase, I cannot see that the increase of 7s. 6d. a week for which this legislation provides can be regarded as grossly inadequate. The difference is only 2s. 6d.
– There has been an increase in the basic wage since then.
– That is so. Nevertheless, that is all that the Labour Party promised.
– That was to be an interim payment.
– It was not suggested as an interim payment. I have the policy speech here. Surely every political party acknowledges that the promises made during an election campaign are promises to be fulfilled if it is elected, in the life of the next Parliament. I suggest that all that was intended by the Labour Party was that there should be an increase of 10s. a week. Labour at that stage did not have any grandiose ideas about the level of pension payments.
If we analyse the promises in regard to social service benefits made by the Labour Party in the policy speech to which I have referred, we see that they would have involved the people of Australia in a total additional payment of £87,000,000, which would have meant an increase of approximately 20 per cent, in personal income tax. That was the calculation that was made by the Opposition. The people rejected out of hand the promises made in the policy speech of the Labour Party. I am sure that the public will entirely reject this suggestion of the Labour Party that the amount we will pay in this year can be described as grossly inadequate.
Then, the honorable member made reference to child endowment. I think it is as well for us to look briefly at the history of child endowment. When it was introduced in 1941, the situation was such that either child endowment had to be introduced or the basic wage would be increased. The government of the day introduced child endowment. But the situation to-day in relation to the assessment of the basic wage is entirely different. To-day it is assessed on the basis of the ability or the capacity of the industry to pay. Therefore, the question which arose in 1941 is not pertinent to present-day conditions. However, Sir, I think that we must remind honorable members opposite that child endowment for the second and subsequent children was first brought in by a Liberal government in 1941. Although the Labour Party was in office for eight years following that, and had the opportunity to increase the amount or to introduce endowment for the first child, it did exactly nothing about it.
– That is not true, and you know it. The Labour Party increased child endowment.
– It did not introduce endowment for the first child. In considering family allowances, I believe that the Government has done something that has been just as valuable to the taxpayers as the actual payment of child endowment. We introduced a medical benefits, scheme which provides a Commonwealth subsidy to help meet the cost of medical treatment. This was previously met in full by the family. We introduced an extensive pharmaceutical benefits scheme. We have provided free milk for school children up to the age of thirteen years. We have provided poliomyelitis vaccine free of charge, first to all children in the community and now to adults. We introduced special taxation concessions relating to education. We introduced the Commonwealth scholarship scheme in 1951, and this has been of tremendous assistance to the family man. We have, in the ten years that we have been in office, substantially increased income tax concessions for dependants.
It may be as well to remind the House and the nation of the cost of increasing child endowment. An increase of ls. a week in endowment for the first child would cost £3,900,000 per annum, and for other children £4,550,000 per annum. Therefore, an increase of ls. overall would mean an additional payment of £8,450,000 per annum, and I am sure that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro would not regard ls. as being adequate.
– It needs to be doubled.
– The honorable member suggests that it should be doubled. The proposals made by his leader at the time of the last election would have cost an additional £58,000.000. which would have meant an increase of approximately 15 per cent, in personal income tax.
I pass on from that to make one or two comments of a general nature in relation to this social service legislation. I do not believe that social service payments out of the National Welfare Fund, and repatriation benefit payments can be regarded other than as part of the Budget. I think that that is the problem which arises in the minds of Opposition members; they feel that these can be treated as items in complete isolation. It has always been the desire of this Government in the ten years that it has been in office to be as liberal as possible in the payment of social services and in easing the means test, whether on income or property. But social service payments have economic and Budget implications. Honorable members on this side of the House, whether in the Ministry or on the back benches, have spent more man-hours in considering these questions than have the supporters of any previous government. The contributions that they have made in pointing out anomalies or difficulties arising from proposals made by the Government have been of inestimable value to the recipients of social services.
When I say that we must think of these paments as part of the Budget, I point out that there is an obligation on this Parliament to provide a large number of services for the community. There is a responsibility in regard to defence; in regard to payments to the States so that the States can provide essential services; in regard to Commonwealth capital works, which as most honorable members know are, and have been for a number of years, met from Consolidated Revenue; in regard to interest and redemption of war loans - most honorable members realize that the loans raised during the war period have not yet been fully repaid; in regard to the administrative costs of government; and, of course, in regard to social services themselves.
It is not right to say that the only benefit the pensioners will receive from the Budget is the amount of the increase in social seivice payments. The pensioners benefit in the same way as do other members of the communitiy from the other services that are provided. Let us take the item of defence. Defence expenditure is for the benefit of every member of the Australian population, and the pensioner receives some benefit from it. I suggest that there is a limit to the amount that any government can call upon the taxpayers to provide year by year. But the Labour Party in my ten years experience has always endeavoured to make a political football of social services. 1 think that on five occasions now it has tried to do this at an election, and the public has shown what it thinks of the intentions of the Labour Party.
It is very easy for Opposition members and for some people in the community to talk about the poor pensioner; but from time to time it is just as well for us to think of the poor taxpayer. During the recent Budget debate requests were made right and left by honorable members opposite for reductions in taxation. Then, when legislation such as this is introduced, they do not want a reduction in taxation; they want the Government to take action which would necessitate an increase in taxation.
Now, Sir, I should like to give a few comparative percentages and figures which I think are very enlightening in relation to this problem. Revenue from taxation this year is expected to total £1,204,000,000. Payments from the National Welfare Fund are estimated at £300,000,000, or 25 per cent, of the total tax revenue. But there are other pensions besides those financed out of the National Welfare Fund. For instance, payment of repatriation pensions costs £66,000,000. If this amount is added to the £300,000,000 paid to pensioners out of the National Welfare Fund, the resultant total represents 30 per cent, of tax revenue.
The total amount of tax estimated to be collected this year from individuals and companies is £664,000,000. The sum of £300,000,000 spent on pensions from the National Welfare Fund represents 45 per cent, of that total of £664,000,000 paid in taxation by individuals and companies. If the amount paid in repatriation pensions is added to the payments from the National Welfare Fund for other pensions, the total represents 55 per cent, of the amount of revenue derived from income tax on individuals and companies.
So in considering this matter one inevitably has to ask: What can the economy afford? I believe that in this particular year - I shall not speak of the future - we are spending on social services all that this Government and this community can afford. It is not only a question of what we can afford; it is also, as I have mentioned earlier, a question of what the ordinary income earner in the community can afford in this direction. We have members of the Labour Party saying that we should not borrow overseas to finance our development, but they want to create the very conditions under which it would be impossible for the Australian community to provide money by way of loans for the provision of capital works and services. They want to take more and more from the people by way of taxation, which would make it more and more difficult to do what they claim to desire - that is, that the community as a whole should finance, not only the consolidated revenue account, but also the whole of our capital works programme.
Then, Sir, I direct the attention of the House to this fact: There were approximately 4,000,000 taxpayers as at 30th June last. You will appreciate that that is just an approximate figure, because one cannot be certain of it to within a few thousands. Those 4,000,000 taxpayers are called upon to contribute to pensions foi no fewer than - and I give the figure exactly, because I think it is important - 1,330,784 people. That is out of a population of 10,000,000. About one-eighth of the people in this country are receiving pensions, and 4,000,000 people - 40 per cent, of the population - are called upon to pay the bill. I remind you again that if you think in terms of increasing the bill for social services, every £20,000,000 extra represents a 5 per cent, increase in the contribution to be made by the taxpayers. So I think that it is important that those things be taken into consideration when the House is making a decision on the present legislation.
I believe that the Australian community has preferred the programme which has been developed by the present Government ever since it came into office in 1949. There has been a gradual progression in relation to social service provisions, a gradual progression in the actual amount of pension paid in each case. The progression has not been by equal amounts year after year, but has been as required to meet the increased costs facing the pensioners. From time to time the rates of pensions have been increased. I remind the House, as I remind the community, that we have increased the rate of age and invalid pensions from the 1949 level of £2 2s, 6d. to £4 15s., as it will be after this legislation comes into effect. In our ten years in office we have liberalized the property means test by raising the permissible limit from £750 to £2,250, and we have liberalized the income means test by raising the limit from 30s. a week to £3 10s. a week. In that period also we have introduced a taxation exemption for a married couple of pensionable age with an income of up to about £850 - that is, at 65 years of age in the case of a man, and at 60 years of age in the case of a woman. We have also provided £5,600,000 in recent years for the construction of homes for the aged. I believe that this is one of the greatest contributions to social services which has been made in this country, because I know that many of such homes are able to provide, with their incomes from the contributions made by their pensioner inmates, very comfortable conditions for the pensioners. In some of those establishments, indeed, pensioners are able to be kept in great comfort and yet have something reasonably substantial left in their pockets to pay for the little luxuries which they naturally desire to purchase.
During its term of office, the Government has also introduced the pensioner medical service, and 90 per cent, of the pensioners to-day - they total over 500,000 - obtain free medical attention and free pharmaceutical benefits. So I suggest, Sir, that the public are satisfied with this gradual progression. The public are appreciative of those things. They have not all been done in one year, and not all the same things, shall we say, have been improved in a particular year, but they have been done progressively year by year. Every year we have given, consideration to some aspect of age, invalid and widows pensions and that consideration has been to the benefit of the pensioners.
So I believe that honorable members, and members of the public, will agree that the Government has always, during that ten years, been fully conscious of its obligation in relation to social services. I think that the fact that payments from the National Welfare Fund have increased from £80,000,000 in 1949 to £300,000,000 in 1959 is a clear indication that this Government has done the right thing in helping the pensioners to meet the changing circumstances of the times.
The Labour Party asks for higher expenditure on social services. Of course, as I indicated earlier, we cannot increase the expenditure on social services and at the same time reduce taxation. So I commend the present legislation to honorable members, and I assure the members of the Opposition, and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro particularly, that if that honorable member feels he is going to get any great support for his amendment he will be gravely disappointed when the vote is taken later.
.- 1 think it is fair to say that public opinion has been outraged by the injustices contained in the Budget. It was bad enough for the Government to have denied the families and the aged and invalid people of Australia their fair shares of Australia’s prosperity, but it was brutal, callous and cynical, in view of that denial, to hand out substantial concessions to the already disproportionately wealthy interests in the community.
Despite the Government’s claims of abounding prosperity in this country, despite its slogan “Australia Unlimited”, when it comes to sharing this prosperity with the masses of the people, the Government seems to be strangely short of funds. It is not prepared to increase expenditure on social services, but it is prepared to give generous hand-outs to very wealthy people by means of tax rebates and tax reductions. On the one hand, the Government thinks it has enough money to give tax concessions to wealthy people who can afford to spend between £300 and £400 a year on life assurance, but on the other hand, it cannot afford to make a decent increase in the payments made to the people of this community who so badly need more than they are getting. The Minister claimed that Labour’s social welfare programme, as announced at the last election, was rejected by the people. I do not think that it is a fair claim to make. In any election there is a multiplicity of issues involved, and I would say confidently that if the social welfare programme of Labour had been submitted to the people by way of a referendum without any extraneous issues being involved, it would have had the overwhelming support of the people. As a matter of fact, it is quite well known that this Government owes its return to office substantially to the aid of the Australian Democratic Labour Party. But what was the D.L.P. policy on social services? Which policy did it most resemble? If anything, it was more generous than the one proposed by the Labour Party. But other issues came into the picture, and, therefore, this Government should not make any claims whatsoever to having been returned because of its social service policy.
The Minister referred - I shall quote just a few of his inaccuracies - to child endowment and said that during Labour’s eight years in office there had not been any increase in child endowment. How ridiculous! In 1945, just at the end of the war, Labour increased endowment for the second and subsequent children from 5s. to 7s. 6d. and then three years later Labour increased child endowment from 7s. 6d. to 10s. for the vast majority of the children of Australia. In other words, in eight years, Labour had doubled endowment for the second and subsequent children of Australia. Contrast that, if you will, with the programme and with the record of this Government with respect to child endowment. During its ten years in office, there has been no increase of child endowment whatsoever for the second and subsequent children. That is the record of this Government. Its one claim in respect of child endowment is that it gave 5s. to the first child. Honorable members opposite talk about political bribery and using social services for that effect! Everybody clearly remembers, I am sure, that back in 1949 the payment of endowment for the first child was one of the major planks of the present government parties when they were in opposition and were trying to get into office. They offered the 5s. child endowment. But now, having got over that, they have another cry.
All of a sudden it has become policy - the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) announced it and the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) and other Government members are now mouthing the same thing - that somehow child endowment is related to the capacity of industry to pay and they suggest that if industry is subjected to the cost of child endowment it will be less able to pay salaries and wages. Recently I asked the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), in his capacity as acting
Prime Minister during the right honorable gentleman’s absence abroad, whether he suggested that specific taxes are levied for specific purposes, and he had to concede that generally that is not the case. He said that taxes are paid into a common pool, -out of which the various payments are made.
The major social services contribution made by the Government in this bill, is an increase of 7s. 6d. a week in age, invalid and widows pensions. The Minister has claimed that this amount will be more than sufficient to cover increases in the cost of living since the last general pension increase was granted in 1937 and will in fact - I ask him to note this - raise the real value of the pension to record levels. Just imagine! An increase of 7s. 6d. over a period of two years, and the Minister is claiming that this will raise the real value of pensions to a record level! I invite the pensioners who have to live on this miserable pittance to give their opinion as to whether pensions are given a record real value. The Minister compared the value with the value of the pension under the socialist government, as he called it, in 1949. This is ten years later, and the whole complexity of our individual organization and the productivity of the country have -changed substantially in that time. We have seen the application of science and technology. Surely after ten years this Government can provide a higher rate of pension in relation to price indexes or to the basic wage. The main reason, in truth, why Labour in 1949 did not increase the pension by as much as many of us probably desired was that that Government was trying to build up a reserve so that ultimately the means test, which is abhorred by so many people, could be abolished. I think that when Mr. Chifley went out of office in 1949, there was something of the order of £185,000.000 already stored up in the National Welfare Fund for the devoted purpose of eliminating the means test. It was -a deliberate policy of restraining, to some -extent, outgoings on social services so that ultimately many more people would have the security of a national dividend or a national retiring allowance. The only politically-valid comparison that can be made is between the Government’s proposals on pensions and what Labour was prepared to offer at the last election.
Labour made it quite clear that it would immediately increase age, invalid and widows’ pensions by 10s. a week. Since that time, the basic wage has been increased by 15s. a week, and pensions would have had to be adjusted to meet such an increase. As the honorable member for Eden-Monaro quite rightly said, the pension under Labour would have been at least five guineas per week as against the £4 15s. that it will be under this Government. If Labour had been returned at the last election, most of the pensioners to-day would be 10s. a week better off than they will be under this Government’s proposal.
– And the country would have been in an economic crisis.
– You are always speaking of economic chaos. The country does not come to economic chaos when companies make exorbitant profits, and the financial institutions are sucking the very blood out of the country. There is no worry about economic collapse then, but if it is suggested that the mass of the people should get a little bit of the alleged Australia Unlimited prosperity we are told that it would cause chaos.
The crowning glory of the Minister’s speech referred to class “ A “ widows, invalid pensioners, and permanently incapacitated age pensioners with two or more children under sixteen years of age. He reminded us that in 1956 the Government paid an additional 10s. a week for each child after the first, and he stated that the widows will continue to receive this additional amount for their children as well as the general increase of 7s. 6d. a week which it is proposed to make under this bill. In other words, the Minister got up and said to the people - the widowed mothers of Australia - “ We do not intend to cut down your pension or your children’s allowances. We gave you the 10s. in 1956, and we do not now intend to take it back.” What a great claim to be able to make! How thankful, I am sure, the mothers of Australia must feel to a magnanimous Government that says to them, “We will not cut down in regard to that payment of 10s. We will allow it to remain static.” It has remained static in money terms. It has slipped back in terms of real value. As a matter of fact, the 10s. has declined in value, due to inflation, under this Government.
– How many millions would you add to the social services bill?
– You can go through the whole gamut of the social service legislation and you will find anomaly after anomaly and injustice after injustice. There is, first of all, I am reminded, the pitiful instance of the dependent wife of an invalid or incapacitated age pensioner, the pensioner no longer able to work - no longer able to earn income. He has a wife who is not of pensionable age. What does this Government do? It continues, in this age of prosperity, to give that woman the magnificent sum of 35s. a week. In other words, the Government is asking two adult people, one of them sick and obliged to meet all the expenses that treatment entails, to live on £6 10s. a week in this day and age. The 35s. payment has remained static. Why not help such a woman if she is not able to work. In many cases she is not, for she must b: at home to look after her husband. I can speak with assurance about what happens in my own electorate at any rate. If such a woman goes to the employment office she is told very quickly that she is unemployable. Instead of being given the unemployment benefit - which is higher than 35s. a week - she will be helped to make out an application for a dependent wife’s allowance - a lousy 35s. a week!
– That is hardly parliamentary language.
– The honorable member should hear the language that some of these people use in describing this Government.
Mr. Daly. - Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I direct your attention to the fact that the Chairman of Committees is interjecting continually. .
– Order! Most of the interjections are coming from my left.
– One can go through the whole gamut of social service benefits for dependants of widows, or of invalid, aged or incapacitated pensioners, and find nowhere an increase granted in this or the last Budget. Imagine giving 7s. 6d. a week increase to a widow with dependent children! That is her dividend from the supposedly great prosperity that this Government has brought to the land.
I turn next to the supplementary pension of 10s. which is granted to certain classes of persons. Even the Government has admitted that the number of pensioners claiming the supplementary payment has been far below that anticipated. In fact, apparently only 14 per cent, of the pensioners are entitled to receive it. What sort of person is excluded by the rules from participation? An example is provided by the pensioner who is paying off a home - which might be subject to a mortgage of hundreds or thousands of pounds. He is deemed to be a home owner and not paying rent when, in fact, he may be paying £3 or £4 a week off his mortgage. If this Government had a heart at all it would extend the supplementary payment to every single age and invalid pensioner and widow pensioner with a home of his own or her own. It is very nice to own a home but that privilege also carries with it onerous burdens, especially for the single person struggling to meet the cost of municipal, water, and sewerage rates, maintenance, insurance payments and so on, from his meagre pension. I do not think that it would have been too much to extend the 10s. supplementary allowance to the single home-owning pensioner at any rate. Ultimately we shall have to consider the advisability of giving the single pensioner more than half the pension granted to the married man. Indeed, a good case could be made out for giving him between 60 and 65 per cent, of the combined pension of a married couple.
The funeral allowance, which is important to many people, has not been increased since Labour left office. Some folk go to all sorts of trouble in order to ensure that they will have a decent funeral. They are glad to put away even 6d. a week for that purpose. A Labour government inaugurated the funeral allowance of £10 but, as has happened in so many other spheres, its real value has not been maintained by this Government. I think that I should remind every one, without unnecessarily rubbing it in, that Labour’s election promise was to increase the funeral benefit to £30.
Similarly, there has been no increase in unemployment or sickness benefits, in the dependent wife’s allowance, or in the allowance for children. This is supposed to be a time of great prosperity, but the Budget offers no comfort to the unfortunate person who is sick and unable to attend work - and there are enough unemployed around already under this Government.
I have already mentioned that, since 1948, eleven years ago, there has been no increase in the endowment paid in respect of the vast majority of Australian children. I was rather intrigued by a newspaper report of a recent speech by Dr. L. Harrison Matthews, the 59-year-old Director of the London Zoo. Dr. Matthews is an eminent biologist and was addressing the British Association conference, which is regarded as the scientists’ parliament. Dr. Matthews warned the world about the boom in babies. I cannot help thinking that this Government must have been listening very intently. Honorable members may be interested in his recipe for dealing with the problem of over-population. I do not know whether the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has in hand any project to put the first proposal into effect. Dr. Matthews said that governments must -
Develop a simple birth control pill to be made freely available at little or no cost.
I direct particular attention to his second and third proposals. They were -
Impose crippling taxes on parents with more than two or three children.
End family allowances which subsidize irresponsible parents for laying further burdens on other citizens.
It looks as if this Government is implementing two of those proposals at any rate. 1 turn now to the pensioner medical service, concerning which the Government has been making great claims. However, at least 22 per cent, of the pensioners are not very enthusiastic about it for, since 1955, that proportion has been excluded from the benefits of the scheme. These people receive a paltry £2 a week in addition to their pension, so they are excluded. All those who were receiving additional monies before 1955 - an arbitrary point of time - are eligible. That is bad enough. The £2 a week prohibition is, of course, rendered more exclusive by the effects of inflation. Into the bargain those pensioners, in common with the rest of us, will have to pay 5s. for each prescription. I invite honorable members to think of all the elderly people in the community such as pensioners and superannuated persons - by the thousand - who are denied pensions. They will all have to pay 5s. for a prescription, after paying a doctor for treatment.
– Under this Government they have become sicker than ever.
– Order! The honorable member’ can make his speech without the assistance of the honorable member for Grayndler.
Mr. REYNOLDS__ I pass now to the means test, which is probably exercising more minds than anything else. As at 30th June, 1958, 1,030,895 men and women were qualified by age to receive the pension. Suffice to say that, of those people, 53 per cent, did not receive any pension whatever. Of the 47 per cent, who receive a pension, many receive only a part pension. As the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has said, other countries have been brave enough to tackle this problem. Our little sister dominion of New Zealand has done so. The honorable member mentioned Canada, but he could have mentioned other countries which either have already done so or are in the process of doing so. Great Britain, Germany, France, Holland and South Africa, to name a few other countries are ahead of us in this field. We in Australia used to pride ourselves on our social services. The countries that I have mentioned have tackled this problem. We say in all sincerity that it is time that Australia did the same. Whether the means test is abolished or substantially relaxed, something must be done very quickly.
In its policy speech the Labour Party advocated the setting up of a committee to inquire into the social services schemes that are in operation overseas, with a view to easing substantially the means test and ultimately abolishing it. In 1954 Labour waged an almost successful election campaign, and the central plank of our platform at that time was the abolition of the means test. It is strange to read in the press to-day, five years after that election campaign, statements by Government spokesmen, kidding the people that the Government is going to do something about abolishing the means test, particularly when one remembers that in 1954 the Government parties raised a hue and cry about this matter and said that the money could not be found for it.
Labour indicated that its immediate concern was to raise the lower limits of the property means test, which had remained static for some time at £209, in the case of of a single person, and £419 in the case of a married couple. Labour’s proposition was that there should be an immediate easing of the means test to allow a single person to have property worth £400 and a married couple to have property worth £800. However, despite all the talk about what the Government back-benchers would do, the Budget has not eased the means test as it applies to income or property. The limit of £3 10s. a week in relation to income still applies, even though, due to the effect of inflation, it should now be about £5. Because the limit has not been raised to allow for the effects of inflation, more people are being affected by this means test than previously was the case.
The property means test is even more vicious. It is about time that we did something to try to equate the effects of property means test and the income test. On the present basis of a reduction of pension by £1 for every £10 of property over £200, trie pensioner has lost only £205 by the time the limit pf £2,250 is reached. Under the Government’s present proposals, the total pension that a person may receive is £247. but if he has property worth £2,250 he is debarred from receiving any pension at all. although under the formula for reduction he should lose only £205. Therefore, we suggest that instead of taking an arbitrary figure of £2,250, the Government should allow the process of reduction of a pension by £1 for every £10 of property over £200 to work to the full, which would raise the limit well beyond £2,250. That would give some equity.
There is another aspect of this matter. If £2,250 were invested at, say, 5 per cent:, which is a< reasonable figure, the yield from the investment would be only £112 10s., as against the pension of £247 which a person would receive if he did not have any property. A single person may receive an income of £429 a year from his pension and the £3 10s. a week that he is allowed to earn, whereas a person who has £2,250 worth of property is prohibited altogether from receiving a pension, even though, in terms of income, his £2,250 is worth only £112 10s. If £200- the figure at which the property means test commences to operate - were invested at 5 per cent., it would yield only £10 a year. If a person receives an income from his property of only £10 a year, his pension begins to be reduced accordingly, but he may earn £3 10s. a week before the income means test begins to operate.
The operation of this property means test discourages people from saving for their old age. The ill effects of the test are shown by the number of people who are converting property to income by purchasing annuities and by other devices. They are handing over their property to insurance companies, or to other people by deeds of trust. These practices will continue. People who own property are placed in the position of having to get rid of their property and take out an annuity, but if they happened to die the next day the annuity would be lost.
A great deal has been said about the cost of abolishing the means test. We must remember that even a substantial relaxation of the means test will put income into the hands of the consumers. We have received complaints from retailers, and have read statements in the press that- the increase in retail sales for the March quarter of this year was the lowest for ten years. The retailers are pleading for an increase in social services payments to boost consumption in this country. If people who are now debarred from receiving pensions were in fact granted pensions, they would have greater purchasing power in their hands. It would be far better to give those people a little extra money than to pay subsidies on the sale of our goods overseas. We would be much better off by encouraging our home markets, which would increase employment. A relaxation of the means test would make it possible for many citizens to continue working - many in self-employment- and so assist in building up our national production. Much of the money that the Government paid out in that way would be returned in the form of revenue. The’ outlay would not be the dead loss that so many people seem to believe it would be. The Government would be encouraging home markets and promoting our national prosperity.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- 1 am sorry that the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) spoiled the several sound suggestions and observations contained in his speech by his initial socialist outburst, giving voice to class distinction and the usual stand-bys of his party - inflation and unemployment.
I wish to refer to the amendment that has been proposed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). Apparently the Opposition considers the existing base pension rate to be inadequate and the proposal is that the bill be withdrawn and amended by increasing the pension rate to a figure which the Opposition considers to be more adequate to meet present day requirements. For the benefit of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who has just left the chamber, I might say that Mr. Spratt evidently caught his mackerel. I can assure him that the little donkeys to whom he referred have worked assiduously on behalf of the underprivileged “people and the pensioners of this country, I can assure him, too, that the little donkeys will not accept the carrots that have been held out to them by the Labour Party. I should like to point out also that the press appellation applied by Mr. Spratt to the Minister is not shared by members of the Social Services Committee.
The main complaint appears to be that the proposed increase of 7s. 6d. a week is inadequate. There have been many demands from all sections of the community, particularly voiced by honorable members opposite, that this pension should be increased to a figure equivalent to 50 per cent, of the basic wage. Let us stop and see how utterly stupid and ridiculous this claim is. What is adequate? The cost of ls. increase per week in the base rate of the age, invalid and widows pensions would be f 1,690;000 per annum. To increase,, the age pension from £4 7s. 6d. to, say, £6 18s. a week would involve an additional annual expenditure of £85,000,000. If those sums were added to the present total cost of social services the figure resulting would be more than £350,000,000. As the Minister for Supply (Mr. Hulme) has said, social service payments are approaching the equivalent of 35 per cent, of the national revenue. What is an adequate amount, 35 per cent, or 50 per cent.?
The only way to answer these critics is to give them some report of the achievements of this Government over the last ten years in social service benefits and compare those achievements with the proud record of the Labour Party in the same field. In 1949, under a Labour Government, the age arid invalid pensions rate was £2 2s. 6d. a week. At that time there were 403,022 of these pensioners, and these payments cost the Labour Government £41,700,000. To-day, in 1959, the rate of pension is soon to be £4 15s. and there are 600,000 age and invalid pensioners, and the estimated total pension payments for these people is £149,500,000. That figure represents an increase of approximately 375 per cent, since the days of the Labour Administration. That fact alone is a challenge to any critics of what this Government has done.
– Those figures are not right.
– They are quite right; the honorable member can check them if he wishes. But that is not half the story. In regard to health and medical benefits, the Labour Government in 1949 spent £6,200,000. The estimated cost for this current financial year is £64,100,000, which is more than ten times the amount spent on health and medical benefits by the Labour regime. In 1949, widows’ pension payments under the Labour Government amounted to £4,400,000, whilst the estimated total for 1959-60 is £12,200,000. Child endowment in 1949 cost £24,300,000. but it is estimated to cost £62,500,000 in the current financial year. However, in spite of these facts, honorable members on the other side of the House have engaged in continued criticism.
The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) said that under this Government the rate of unemployment and sickness -benefits had not been increased. Although the rate has not been increased, the total expenditure under this heading has increased from £1,000,000 in 1949 to an estimated £7,700,000 in 1959-60. The rate in 1949 for a married man with one child was £2 10s. a week. In 1957 it had increased to £6 2s. 6d. a week, and in addition the permissible income of £1 a week allowed under the Labour regime was increased by the Liberal-Country Party Government to £2 a week.
The means test has also been discussed. In 1949, the permissible income allowed by the Labour Government was £1 10s. a week, but in 1958, under this Government, it was increased to £3 10s. a week. The property exemption was raised from £100 to £200 in those respective periods, and the excess property limit from £750 to £2,250. These are just some of the achievements of this Government which is now being maligned for its attempt to make a further increase in social service benefits as well as introduce various innovations. One innovation was the supplementary assistance introduced by the Government in 1958 which provided an additional 10s. a week for single pensioners who pay rent and who are dependent solely on their pension. Another reform was implemented by the Aged Persons’ Homes Act. I am sure members of the Opposition are very sorry that they never thought of introducing legislation of that kind. From 16th December, 1954, to 30th June last, 375 grants were made under the Aged Persons’ Homes Act, representing a total expenditure of £5,800,000. This has resulted, with the assistance of State and other contributions, in 7,200 of our senior citizens being effectively housed.
Those are some of the Government’s achievements. But the story does not stop there. I refer to the reciprocal agreements which have been entered into by this Government with the United Kingdom in regard to social services. They were first introduced in June, 1953, and amplified and widened in April, 1958, under a new agreement. During the ten years this Government has been in office it has also granted taxation concessions to men over the age of 65 and women over 60 years of age. Now, in the legislation before the House another innovation is the proposal to extend to our aboriginal natives the same benefits that every other member df the community enjoys, provided those natives are not nomadic or primitive. These are the things which have been done by this Government.
Now let us turn for a moment to the proud record of Labour as instanced by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). In 1941, under the Labour regime the base rate pension was increased by 2s. from 21s. 6d. to -23s. 6d. During the next two years there were six cost-of-living adjustments and one increase of 6d. a week. This brought the total of the pension to 27s. In 1943, under a cost-of-living adjustment it was reduced by 6d. a week. I will admit that almost immediately the Labour Government restored the figure to 27s. a week. Two years later the Curtin Government increased the amount by 5s. 6d. a week to 32s. 6d. and two years later the Chifley Government raised it by another 5s. a week to 37s. 6d. In 1948, Mr. Chifley increased it once more by 5s., bringing the total to £2 2s. 6d. That is the proud record of Labour concerning age pensions. Honorable members opposite do not challenge those figures.
– You have made them up.
– Obviously honorable members opposite do not like to be told about the proud record of their Government. I should like to direct attention to the increases in pensions since 1949. In 1950, an increase of 7s. 6d. a week brought the total amount to £2 10s. In 1951 an increase of 10s. raised it to £3, in 1952 & further 7s. 6d. brought it to £3 7s. 6d., in 1953 a further 2s. 6d. raised it to £3 10s., in 1955 a 10s. increase brought it to £4, in 1957 it was raised to £4 7s. 6d. and now another 7s. 6d. a week is to be added. Is this an inadequate rate of pension? I ask honorable members to compare this Government’s record with that of the Labour government. To expect a greater increase than 7s. 6d. in the base rate of pension after the 1958-59 Budget when the Government estimated there would be a deficit of £100;000,000, or in 1959-60 when a deficit of £61,000,000 is estimated, shows a complete and utter disregard of our national! economy. However, that is not to say that there is not room ‘for improvement and justification for criticism of certain aspects of our social services legislation. Ohe of these is the question of residential qualification. At present a person must reside here for twenty years before he can qualify for the age pension. There are reciprocal agreements with Great Britain and New Zealand and now people born1 in Australia, New Zealand and Great ‘Britain are, with few exceptions, entitled, upon reaching pensionable age, to obtain a pension. So, in the main, the only persons who are prejudiced by the imposition of this qualification period are migrants from countries other than those that I have mentioned. To my mind, this has a very bad effect on our migration programme. People so affected are inclined to consider themselves as second-class citizens. Honorable members will remember that this feeling also arose some time ago over the question of citizens being liable for deportation, even after being naturalized, if they committed certain types of crime. It will be recalled that that provision was amended to remove that restriction of citizenship.
I earnestly suggest to the Government and to the Minister for Social Services, who is at the table, that consideration bc given to reducing the qualifying period from twenty years .to : five years, which is the period of residential qualification for naturalization. Thus, every citizen of Australia, whether he be aboriginal native, natural-born, native of the United Kingdom or New Zealand or, after naturalization, native of any other country, will be entitled upon reaching pensionable age to a pension. Thus, all will be on a common footing. To some degree we control our intake of elderly citizen’s under the migration programme. In certain instances we accept guarantees from relatives, so we will not be greatly embarrassed if we take this step. There will be ho increased drain upon our economy until the migrants already here have ‘ contributed to the economy to such an’ extent as to justify their receipt of a pension.
The matter of funeral benefit was raised by an honorable member opposite. I agree that the amount of - £10 is undoubtedly completely out of step with current prices. Sometimes a married pensioner couple are fortunate enough to possess £400 in the bank, which is the maximum amount allowed to them. :But in long periods of sickness they are-required to expend money not only on medicine but also on additional food and luxuries. Their bank account can be eaten away in this manner, ,. and upon the death of the ailing partner, the other is left - more unfortunately if it is the woman - with an obligation to pay out £80, £90 or £100 in funeral and medical expenses, in addition to having had to, pay for the additional luxuries purchased to make the final days of her partner somewhat easier. It is estimated that to increase the benefit to £25 would cost no.1 more than £500,000. Such an increase, although perhaps not enough, would be a step in the right direction.
I turn now to age and invalid pensions. Many honorable members, both in- government and opposition have espoused . the introduction of a compulsory superannuation scheme. From time to time gallup polls have affirmed that most of the people in the community want a scheme of this type. On 26th August, 1959,’ . when delivering in Perth the presidential address of the Australian and New Zealand i Association for the Advancement of Science, Dr. Coombs said -
I believe that it is dangerous to leave: ‘the adequacy of saving to finance development. : to chance or th~ uncertain influence of interest .rates as we do at present. In this connexion I Have two positive suggestions to make which I believe would be worth examination. The first hi1 that there should be general contributory superannuation supplementing . the basic pensions, at present provided’. There seems good reason to. believe that the great majority of people would” be willing to contribute to such a scheme for”, the benefits it would confer to security in . old; ‘age.
Other eminent people, including my friend the honorable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson), have suggested schemes of a similar nature. We have been told to-hight about the position in other countries, <but honorable members opposite failed to say that in many cases the payments made i are based on contributory schemes, either voluntary or compulsory. I realize - that there are some barriers to attaining -this objective, but if we treat them as insurmountable barriers we will never get anywhere. We must accept them as challenges and do something about them,’- or we shall be faced with growing charges on our revenue. The Minister for Supply (Mr. Hulme) has already told us that pensions of all kinds absorb 30 per cent.’ of revenue from taxation. Where is it going to end? Benefits will need to increase and the number of people participating will undoubtedly grow. If we continue with the present scheme the people will finish by losing the independence which is their most precious possession.
I should like to see the implementation of a . contributory scheme. In the meantime,, until we have such a scheme, we must do something to get us out of the present impasse. I suggest that we rationalize the present means test. The present arrangement, whereby the pension is reduced by £1 per annum for every £10 worth of property in excess of £200 is unsatisfactory. It could not have been based on the interest return from investment, because it presupposes a 10 per cent, return on capital. Surely it is patent that to obtain a 10 per cent, return on capital one must invest in highly speculative stocks. The average pensioner who wishes to invest money requires that it be put into safe trustee investment or Commonwealth bonds, which will give him a return of about 41 per cent, or 5 per cent. If we accept 5 per cent, as an average figure, we should reduce the pension by £1 for every £20, instead of £10, in excess of the base amount. If we discard the present property ceiling of £2,250 for a single person, we arrive at a position where a person who has saved- his money will receive in return from investment and part pension, at least the same amount as will the. person who has not been able to save money, and the former will still be able, at the end of his days, to pass on his savings to his family or to any one else. This has special advantages. At the present time many people who. are approaching pensionable age and who have money, divest themselves of their savings. They can do that in various ways. They can spend their savings on consumer goods, such as refrigerators and additional clothes; or they can pay to have renovations or additions made to their homes. They fritter their money away and the national savings go down. The Government has to pay those people a full pension because they have left themselves with only £200. Under my proposal if a person were to retain money in excess of £200, his pension would be reduced by the equivalent of 5 per cent, of the sum by which his capital exceeded £200, the pension ceasing entirely when 5 per cent, return on his . capital equalled the pension of £4 15s. per week.
– That is very involved.
– It is not involved. It is straightforward and is a rationalization which it is anticipated would not cost more than £2,000,000 or £2,500,000 per annum. Therefore, it is a matter worthy of consideration.
The only other matter that concerns me to any great degree is our unscientific approach to this whole problem of social services. It is very easy, I suppose, administratively to make an overall increase in the base rate, but many people in our community are impoverished pensioners. When the Government introduced the special supplementary allowance of 10s. a week I thought it was taking a step in the right direction; that it was making some effort to pay money to those in need, but I would like to see that allowance paid to people, either single persons or married couples, where only one pension, is coming into the house, and where a home is being paid off, even though there is no payment of rent within the. meaning of the last amendment to the act. The present method of paying the base rate of pension shows no realism at all. Merely to increase the base rate does not greatly assist the impoverished pensioners, but if there were some differentia.tion, the needy pensioners could get a greater amount without the economy being harmed unduly.
The Brotherhood of St. Laurence has sent me a very nice publication and I wish to quote from it briefly. In this document entitled “ 100,000 Depressed Pensioners” the Brotherhood of St. Laurence states - the Commonwealth Government should make practical recognition that there is in our midst a group of some 100,000 specially depressed pensioners, and take steps to make specific and special provision for this depressed group before it spends a single extra pension penny in any other direction.
Later it says -
The answer to that question is simple. The true test of a pension scheme is not whether every one in the pension group receives the same amount of assistance, but whether every one who receives assistance is, as a result, enabled to reach a certain minimum standard of subsistence.
Mention is then made of the special allowance, and the article continues -
Such allowances are merely recognition of the incontrovertible fact that a flat rate pension scheme is too inflexible, too full of anomalies, to permit pension justice to be given to all classes. The allowances would, in one stroke, remove many of the anomalies that now exist. lt further states -
There can be no justification for further delays in this country.
Those extracts deal with special allowances, in all these matters of course the Government must act within the compass of the economy. The Government has done that to an amazing degree over the past ten years. The fact that there are still many things to be done makes no difference to my support of this legislation. I certainly would not have a bar of the amendment moved by the Opposition, because it is unspecific, and quite patently very little work has been done on its compilation. But I would like to see in future a more scientific approach being made to this problem of social services and greater use of special allowances pending the introduction of a contributory scheme. The only scheme that will take this country out of its present troubles as far as social services are concerned is a compulsory superannuation scheme, which will leave everybody with his independence. Such a scheme would not be a penalty on thrift and would allow the Government to spend a far greater amount on the public utilities that are needed for the development of this great country of ours.
Mr. THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) [10.6J -It has been rather interesting to listen to the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes). I want to refer particularly to a reflection that he attempted to cast on the Australian Labour Party. When he made his statement I thought at the time how little he was prepared to put a fair and decent value on things. He referred to the day when the pension was 23s. and lie said that in 1 948 the Chifley Government had increased it to only £2 2s. 6d., whereas this Government proposed, under this bill, to increase the pension to £4 15s. My reply to the honorable member is that £4 15s. to-day has not the same purchasing power that £2 2s. 6d. had in 1948. No matter how you care to juggle figures, a pension of £2 2s. 6d. under the Labour
Government in 1948 was better than a pension of £4 1 5s. to-day. That is why the Opposition has moved that the Government should reconsider this legislation and give something more to the pensioners.
Speaking about pensions a few years ago, I said that the pensioner was just as entitled to a fair share of the country’s prosperity as was any other worker. I referred then to the fact that the Arbitration Court had decided to fix the basic wage not on needs but according to the ability of the country to pay.
We should not be thinking of a pension of 23s. or £2 2s. 6d. in days gone by. We should be asking ourselves whether a pension of £4 15s. is a fair and reasonable amount to give people to live on in to-day’s conditions. We on this side of the House say that it is not a fair amount and that it should be increased. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver) asked the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) where the extra millions of pounds would come from to pay for further increases in pensions. He also asked how the country would stand such payments. We have always had remarks such as that thrown up when we want to do something for the pensioners. I recall that, in 1910, when I was in a country town, a member of Parliament said, “ Look what a socialist government, a Labour government, would do if it got into power. Look at the money that is being wasted on old age pensions. Now Labour wants to waste more money on pensions to widows and orphans.” Even to-day there are many people whose mentality is not much different to that of the member who passed those remarks so many years ago. They argue that with our present income and productivity we cannot afford it. Then there are certain cases in respect of which I think the Government has been callous. I was pleased to hear the honorable member for Barton Mr. Reynolds mention the allowance for dependent wives of invalid pensioners. Two years ago, I submitted a proposal that this allowance be increased from £1 15s. to £2 15s. a week. The Minister said at the time that the Government would not agree to the proposal, and he rejected it. Later, some honorable members on the Government side came to mc and said that they would have liked to be . able to support my suggestion, thereby proving . conclusively that they felt that £1 ..15s. a week was not enough.
When I found that no provision had been .made in last year’s Budget for increasing the allowance to wives, I mentioned the matter again and stated that I would never let up in my advocacy until the allowance to “the dependant wife of an invalid pensioner was increased. I was amazed to find, that’ again this year there is no provision in the Budget for such an increase. The Government does admit that the economy of the country can afford an increase from £4 7s. 6d. per week to £4 15s. for the age pensioner. We argue that this is not enough, but the Government is prepared to go that far, and that is something.
At the present time, the age pensioner receives £4 7s. 6d. a week. A husband and wife receive £8 15s. a week. Under the new proposal, they will get £9 10s. a week - provided the wife is over 60 years of age. The Government proposes to increase the invalid pension to £4 15s. a week but refuses to increase the wife’s allowance of £1 15s. This means that the total payment to an invalid pensioner and his wife will be £6 10s. a week, or £3 5s. each. The invalid pensioner must have a home, just as must the age pensioner. It should be remembered also mat a man is not eligible for the invalid pension until he is 85 per cent, incapacitated and unable to work. This means that his wife has the onerous task of caring for him, yet the Government is prepared to allow them only £3 5s. a week each to live on.
Two years ago I hammered this question. The Minister said to-night that the payment of 10s. a week to the second and subsequent children of a class A widow would bc continued. I have hammered that matter for a long time because I have always felt that the class A widow has been the one most harshly treated by the Government. I think now, however, that the one most harshly treated is the invalid pensioner who has a wife. The allowance for the wife should be more than £1 15s. a week, and any government that is satisfied to go on paying only that small amount is callous in its outlook.
The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. . Stokes) asks that the man who has thousands of pounds be given an income sufficient for him to live on so that he may leave his capital to his children when he dies.
– There is nothing wrong with that.
– Yet the honorable member says nothing about the need for doing something for the dependent wife of an invalid pensioner.
There, is another section of the community which is in an even worse position. I refer to an age pensioner whose wife is under 60 years of age. When a government employee attains the age of 65 years, he is retired. Often a man working for private enterprise is discharged on reaching that age. He finds it impossible to get work and so becomes an age pensioner. Under the new proposal, he will receive a pension of £4 15s. a week. If his wife is only 58 or 59 years of age, she will not be entitled to one penny. I emphasize that this position is not new. If it were, I could understand it, but I made the same plea two years ago that I am making now and nothing has been done for these people. The Labour Party will endeavour to ensure that the wife of an age pensioner shall receive at least the same amount as that paid to the wife of an invalid pensioner - £1 15s. a week - although I argue that £1 15s. is not enough.
If, however, a man who is 65 years of age and is unable to find employment can obtain a medical certificate that he is 85 per cent, incapacitated and therefore cannot work, his wife will be paid an allowance of £1 15s. a week. A man over 70 years of age is not required to obtain a medical certificate. His wife is automatically entitled to an allowance, even though she be under 60 years of ase. An anomaly arises from the fact that the wife of a man 65 years of age who is unable to obtain employment and who becomes an age pensioner is entitled to no allowance if she is under 60 years of age. And we all know that finding employment is very hard indeed for any man after he attains 60 years of age. The anomaly to which I have referred should be rectified.
I do not blame the Government alone for this fault. I say that the real responsibility lies with the officers of the Department of Social Services. Here, I emphasize that it is one of the finest departments with which I have had to deal. Its officers give me wonderful treatment whenever I can establish a person’s right to benefit. But, generally speaking, Ministers do not hold this portfolio for long. The present Minister.for Social Services has stated that he has had the longest term as Minister since social services were placed under the administration of a separate department. As a general rule, Ministers hold this portfolio for only short periods and, therefore, are in the hands of the officers of the department to a great extent. That is why I say that the officers ofthe department should stress the need for rectifying this anomaly because they knowthe true position. They know that whatI sayis true. They are dealing with these cases continually and, although I regard the officers of the department very highly, I do feel that they should emphasize the heed for action in this direction.
I was interested to read in the Adelaide “ Advertiser “, either yesterday or this morning, that members of the Liberal Party had pleaded the case for these people at their party meeting and that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) had promised to consider what they had said. I am glad these honorable members have learned their lesson and are now doing something. This anomaly has existed for some time, and it should be rectified.
The honorable member for Maribyrnong referred, to the means test and suggested a 5 per cent. return on capital investment. Let me tell the honorable member what I havebeen doing in this connexion over the years. In a letter dated 20th August, 1948, I wrote to the late Mr. Chifley, and dealt with the means test in these terms -
You will recollect that I brought this matter up at a Party meeting some months ago and asked that the means test on property be abolished and the income only taken into account, also suggesting that I was quite agreeable to the actual income earnt from the property, or 5% of the value of such property, whichever was the greater.
That is exactly what the Government now puts forward as an innovation - as something that only a committee of Liberal Party members has been able to evolve after all these years. From time to time, when these matters have been discussed over theyears, I have suggested this sort of thing.
I do not know, of course, what has been said at meetings of the Government parties, but it has been reported in the press that the Government’s supporters have suggested that it should wipe out the £2,250 property limit, and I have not heard anybody deny it. I think that ought to be done. But what was the Government’s view when we asked that that be done two years ago? It refused, and it has taken two years to think about it. “ Hansard “ of this House, of 8th October, 1957, at page 1 1 24, shows that when the Social Services Bill 1957 was being considered in committee I moved an amendment in these terms -
That in clause3, after paragraph (a) insert the following paragraph: - “ (aa) by omitting fromsub-section (2a) the words but does not exceed One thousand seven hundred and fifty pounds and “.
That amendment was designed to abolish the property limit of £1,750 which was imposed at that time. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) refused to accept it. I stated thatI proposed, if it were accepted, to move further amendments in relation to other clauses, and I said that we would have a test vote on the amendment that I have just read. We lost that vote, because nobody on the Government side of the chamber supported my amendment. I admit that, again, more than one Government supporter told me privately afterwards that he would have likedto support it.
The honorable member for Maribyrnong dealt with income from property. At this point, I may say that some of the suggestions that I made in the letter to Mr. Chifley which I have mentioned were met in part, although everything that I wanted was not done. It is well known that a private member cannot get everything that he wants. Government supporters know that as well as I do. However, I was pleased that I was able to get Mr. Chifley to go part of the way. In my letter to Mr. Chifley, I said also -
Suggested Amendment No. 1. - In section 22 of the Social Services Consolidation Act No. 26 of 1947, delete sub-clause G of section 22, which provides for a limit of the value of the property a person may have and receive a pension.
I consider this limit should be determined by the reductions made for each £10 value of property over £100.
Let us compare the present position with the suggestion which I made in 1948 - a suggestion which I believe even some members of the Liberal Party of Australia have accepted and which I believe they are prepared to support at meetings of their party. At present, a man and his wife may have £4,500 between them - £2,250 each. An amount of £200 each is exempt; so that at least £2,050 each is taken into account in calculating their pension. Each loses £1 for every £10 of that amount, making a deduction of £205 from the pension of £227 10s., leaving each with a pension of only £22 10s. Had their total assets amounted to £2 more than £4,500 they would have received no pension at all. The Government’s present proposals accentuate the distinction. The limit for a married couple is left at £4,500, but they will be allowed a pension of £42 each, instead of £22 10s. each, which will give them a combined pension of £84. However, if their assets total £4,502, they receive nothing at all. Is that equitable? Is it reasonable? Is not it an anomaly that should be removed? Why does not the Government do something to remove it? 1 went further in the proposal that I made in 1948. I suggested much the same thing as the honorable member for Maribyrnong has suggested now. I suggested that the property limit be abolished, as I have already indicated, and that £1 for every £10 of property, or £1 for every £5 of property - which ever was decided on - be allowed as income. At present, a pensioner with assets of £2,000 receives the benefit of an exemption of £200, leaving £1,800, in respect of which he loses £180 in pension, although his income from that property of £2,000 may be only £50. Government suporters know that that is the position. It is riot fair. Under the proposal that I made, the pensioner would be allowed as income the £50 earned’ on his property as well as the £180 - representing £1 for every £10 of his assets in excess of the exemption limit of £200 - giving a total permissible income, apart from the pension, of £230. He would receive the full rate of pension at the new rate, which is the equivalent of £247 a year, in addition to income of £230. That is what I have advocated for a long time.
During the last couple of years, I have heard Government supporters putting forward their proposals, perhaps much more briefly and in a more minor way, thereby indicating that they were coming round to what I have been battling for on behalf of the pensioners for a long time. We all know the persons who are hardest hit to-day. We see them in every town. I am sure that other honorable members know of such persons in their own home towns, just as I know of many in mine. I refer particularly to people who have worked hard all their lives to get a home together. The home may be worth £3,000 to-day, and both husband and wife may get a full pension. If the husband passes away and the wife’s health is not good enough for her to live on her own, she may have to live with one or other of her children. As the honorable member for Maribyrnong has said, the mother wants to be able to leave the property to her children; she does not want to sell it. But, if she is the sole owner of a property worth £3,000, she receives no pension.
If she wishes, she may let the house, and, if she is lucky, she will receive £2 a week for it. However, by the time she has paid rates and taxes and other charges, the income from the property will probably be reduced to 25s. a week. I know of many such cases. I am not just working on theory and stating a hypothetical case. Cases of this kind have occurred, not only during the term of the present Government, but also during the terms of the Labour government and all previous governments. Even some of my own relatives, Mr. Speaker, were in this position, not ten years ago, but 40 years ago. They were unable to get the pension because they owned a house and had to live with one of their children. In those days, of course, the house was worth perhaps only £400. Honorable members can see that a great deal still needs to be done, and I am pleased that Government supporters have a committee at work on these matters. These unfortunate people of whom I have spoken really need help.
I should like to mention one other matter. I have already mentioned the situation in respect of the invalid pensioner. A couple with £5,000 between them receive no pension at all. A return of 5 per cent. - the rate used by the honorable member for Maribyrnong - on £5,000 represents an income of £250 a year for a couple, or £125 each. The Government’s attitude to people in this position is scandalous.
A couple of years ago, the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) asked the Minister whether a person with assets of some thousands of pounds could buy an annuity from a member of his family or an insurance company and receive the full pension. He was told that that could be done, and it is being done. I have in my office a scale of charges fixed by an insurance company for the purchase of annuities. For every £100 paid the purchaser immediately becomes entitled to an annuity of a certain amount for the rest of his life. The annuity starts at perhaps £8 or £9 a year at about 60 years of age. I forget the exact figure, but it is approximately that amount. People do not want to purchase annuities, however. They say, “ If I pay away £3,000 to get an income of £3 10s. a week and I die in a month’s time, the insurance company will get the lot “. We know that these things are worked out according to the law of averages. Instead, people say, “We will go to one of our children “.
Recently, a lady came to me and said, “ I want to put in for the pension “. I asked, “ What capital have you? “ She said, “ I have bought an annuity through my daughter “. I asked what her daughter did, and she said, “ She is in business “. I said, “ What will the position be if your daughter cannot pay the money to you?” She replied, “ I could not take her to court. I could not take any action against my own children.” If anything happened to upset the annuity, she would be back on the pension only.
We should be big enough, as a Parliament, to grasp this matter and deal with it as it should be dealt with. I do not care if my proposal is varied in some way, but I think that if we did something on the lines I have suggested with regard to property we should do something to solve this problem. If a person had the full income, it would not make any difference to him. The people I want to help are those with very little income. If a person had an income of £7 a week he would not be affected. I hope the Government will do something in this matter.
In my opinion, the most harshly treated of all recipients of social service benefits are the dependent wives of invalid and age pensioners with income of £1 15s. a week or less. There may be other persons who suffer severe hardships, but taking the recipients of social service benefits as a body, I think that the two I have mentioned are in the worst position. Perhaps those in the next most unfavorable position are the “ dads “ and “ mums “ who have had to let their homes and go to live with a member of their family, with only a little income from rent to exist on. If we are big enough, we can tackle this problem and solve it. The honorable member for Maribyrnong referred to the cost. I do not care what the cost would be. To me, these are people; they belong to the Australian nation. We are enjoying prosperity, and I contend that they are entitled to a reasonable share of that prosperity, along with those who have jobs.
There are many topics that I should like to discuss during this debate, but I have very little time left. I hope that something can be done in regard to the pensioner medical scheme. I do not know the attitude of the present Minister for Social Services, but a previous Minister was quoted as having said that a person with an income of £7 a week, plus a pension, was just as capable of paying a doctor as the man who was working. But we must not take as an example the man at the top. The man who is hardest hit at present is the one who is perhaps getting only £2 2s. a week in addition to his pension. If he gets only £2 a week, he is entitled to benefit under the pensioner medical scheme, but if he gets £2 2s. a week he does not benefit. Does the Government think that a man who gets £4 15s. a week, as the pension will be when it is increased, plus £2 2s. a week, making a total of £6 17s., is in a position to rent a room and pay for fuel, lighting and everything else, as well as meet medical and hospital bills?
I wish to pay a tribute to the State hospital authorities for their treatment of pensioners. Western Australia, I think, does not quite come up to the mark, but, according to the Minister’s statement, in all the other States if a pensioner presents a pensioner’s medical card he may receive free medical treatment in the public ward of a hospital. That is a very fine thing, and I applaud it. However, there are places where that system does not apply. In my own State of South Australia there arc fair-sized towns which have district hospitals and community hospitals that are not able to make much provision for public beds. Such hospitals may have only two public beds. If those two public beds are occupied, a pensioner who becomes ill must pay for a bed. Something should be done in such places to meet the reasonable needs of pensioners.
Recently, a gentleman from Peterborough wrote to me on behalf of a lady who had lost her husband. They have told me that they do not mind if I mention the matter. She had seven children, and another one was expected a few months later. She had asked, “What can I do in regard to hospital treatment, if I have only the widow’s pension and no other income? “ I did not know the position regarding hospital accommodation at Peterborough, but I said, “ If you were in Adelaide and you went to the Queen Elizabeth hospital, the big new hospital in my .district, you would be able to show your medical card and there would be no cost to -you whatever. But I do not know what you can do at Peterborough.” I hope, Mr. Speaker, that the matters I have mentioned will be rectified.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Ian Allan) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Downer) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I want to refer for a few minutes to a matter that was argued at great length before the House last night. We are accustomed in this House to have our words sometimes given a very narrow meaning, one chosen very often by a bitter political opponent, followed by an attack based upon that meaning, as though there could be one and no other meaning of what was said. That is not an uncommon practice. Yesterday, that happened to me. A Minister chose to give to certain words of mine a particular, narrow meaning, as though there were only one possible meaning of what had been said. The Minister chose to do this in words which would be published from one end of the Commonwealth to the other. He said that certain words I had used were scurrilous and defamatory. That Minister has done this before, Mr. Speaker. He did it to an Australian citizen, and he contributed substantially to the ruination of that citizen. I refer to a former member of the Tariff Board. I am not interested in the words or thoughts of this Minister. He is a malevolent bully, and I am not interested in what he thinks or what he does. I am interested only in putting beyond doubt the meaning of my own words.
In using the words, “ transfer of licences between the various categories “ or “ between one category and another “, I meant categories of goods or commodities, not categories of quotas or licences. Had the Minister chosen to refer to what I had said, he would have seen that all the way through I was discussing categories of goods, types of goods, capital and noncapital goods, consumption goods, or goods with varying degrees of developmental importance. I was talking all the way. through about transfers of imports . between one category of goods and another. I was using the word “category” as it is used in the English dictionary and not as it happens to be used exclusively in the Department of Trade.
– To whom do you pay the few pounds?
– If the Minister- the rather clever Minister - will contain himself for a moment or two. I will tell him. I was concerned alone with the importation of capital or non-capital goods and with goods of a varied range of a developmental importance. I used the word “ category “, as I said, in the dictionary sense. I was not referring at any stage to the transfers of licences or quotas but to transfers of imports from one category of goods to another. There is no reason why a member of this House should not use the word “ category “ to mean that. It has had that meaning for many centuries and it will go on having that meaning, although, to the Minister for Trade, a category means something of an A quota or a B quota or something with administration before it. But I did not happen to mean that. Consequently, I was not referring in any way to transfers in which public servants were concerned. I was referring to transfers of the application of a given licence from one commodity to another.
I said that these transfers could bc arranged for a few pounds and that they were arranged on an unlimited scale for a few pounds between importers and between one another, and I repeat that charge. This is happening on an unlimited scale, and I said that, as a result of this, the Government was not exercising any control whatever over the importation of goods; it was merely controlling the allocation of rights to import goods in general, and I repeat that also. The Minister said that my words were scurrilous and defamatory because they applied to members of the Public Service. My words did not apply to the Public Service and, therefore, they are not scurrilous and defamatory. What I said applies to thousands of people who traffic in the right to import goods and thereby destroy any real chance there may be of obtaining goods of importance which may contribute a little to the development of Australia.
However, I am pleased that the Minister and his friends took up my words as they did. It led them into an admission for the first time that abuses of import licences are widespread. The Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne), who represents the Minister for Customs and Excise in this chamber, admitted for the first time that these abuses are rife and that £600,000 worth of licences have been cancelled because of abuses since last July- £600,000 worth of licences in no more than six weeks! What abuses have taken place in the last six months? What volume of licences was cancelled because of abuses during the past twelve months, during the past two years or since the system was introduced? The Ministers have been able to say, until now, “ If there are any abuses, we will act.” They have always left the impression that there are no abuses and that no action has been taken. But now we have had an admission that £600,000 worth of licences have been cancelled in the last six weeks.
If what 1 had to say, and the misunderstanding of what I had to say by the Minister, who is so apt to use the system of this House to character assassinate those whom he dislikes, has served no other purpose than to force from the Government an admission of these abuses, it has been worth while. But it will not stop here. We will be able to find out in the course of the next few weeks what is the full extent of the abuses that have represented £600,000 worth of licences in the last six weeks, and we propose to do so. What I had to say was given a narrow interpretation - one of several possible interpretations - totally different from the intention expressed in those words. Upon that narrow interpretation, this Minister was prepared to stand at the table and make allegations of scurrilous and defamatory conduct. I leave the House and everybody else to judge between us on this issue.
– I have listened to what the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) has said, and I rather thought that I would not bother to answer, except for one point. He has made it quite clear that he is incapable of understanding facts or really understanding English.
– He does not want to!
– You may have something there, but I think it is probably both. Last night, my colleague, the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne), who represents the Minister for Customs and Excise in this House, explained that there are arrangements to scrutinize transactions which may perhaps turn out to be improper transactions. The Government is not out to catch people. We write to warn every one who inserts these advertisements and then follow up to discover whether any improper practices have occurred. The Minister for Air said that since July, 1958 - not six weeks, but fourteen months -
– He said last July. That is six weeks.
– Not in six weeks, but in fourteen months there had been £600,000 worth of licences or quotas cancelled. Mow can one conduct an argument with a chap who does not understand the English language? The truth of the matter is that he is still scrambling to get out of the awful’ mess in which he has put himself and the Australian Labour Party in this House by making what was clearly a scurrilous attack upon the Public Service. He said- ‘ if he knows the right people and can pay a few pounds, he can get a transfer easily between one category and another.
He is now trying to pretend that he meant that two people, one with a quota and one without a quota, could get together, and could do business. If he had meant that he would not have used those words. He thought that he would do political damage to me and the Government. Quite recklessly, he has involved himself in this scurrilous attack upon honest Australian people who work in the Public Service. He will not easily remove the smear that he has put on the Labour Party; nor will his colleagues who came in as the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) did last night and confirmed his opinion of corruption within the Public Service. He said it in quite unequivocal terms. Though the honorable member for Yarra wants to try to slide out, his first mistake has brought the honorable member for East Sydney deeper into the mire than even he was.
– I thought he was always there.
– You have something there, but he is a bit deeper now. This is really evidence of the recklessness of Labour members in this House who will stop at nothing in an attempt to do political damage to their opponents. In this instance - it is not really unique - all they have done is to bring discredit upon themselves and their party. As I judge them, they will go on getting deeper and deeper in the mire with the same consequences to themselves.
.- The Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) has again refused to face up to discussing the position as it has been put by the Opposition, and to the correct meaning of the words used in this House and recorded in “ Hansard “. He challenges our integrity and our interpretation of his own statements. He challenges our interpretation of statements made by other Ministers’. The only thing we can do is to take the words that Ministers have used and place the usual interpretation on them.
The Minister for Trade says that last night the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) referred to July, 1958. This is what the Minister for Air apparently said, because this is how it is recorded in “Hansard”. Referring to members of the Opposition, he said -
They may be interested to know that £600,000 worth of licences have been cancelled- because of abuses of this sort since last July.
If that means July, 1958, why did the Minister for Air a few moments later say -
Since last July 118 cases of that sort have been dealt with by the departmental committee, . . .
To us on this side of the House, “last July “ means the July which has most recently passed. The honorable member fo. Moreton (Mr. Killen), who is interjecting, is not accustomed to using the English language in a straightforward and simple manner, so I can quite understand and sympathize with, him in the predicament in which he finds himself.
This case is a simple demonstration of the fact that when we put these questions to him in this place, the Minister does everything possible to slide out from under,, and levels abuse at the questioner. This is not the first time it has happened, and this is not the only subject in respect of which it has happened. Last night I raised the question of the Minister’s interpretationor, rather, his denial in this House a fortnight ago - of the export of Australian steel to mainland China. Last night he admitted that spare steel was exported to China.
Those are simple matters, I know, but if rumour has it, or if there is a feeling abroad in the community, that activities in a Government department ought to be investigated, it is our bounden duty to bring the matter before the House, and it is the Minister’s bounden duty to carry out an investigation with the greatest possible despatch, and with the fullest personal examination. Yet he admitted in the House last night that he has nothing to do with these thing, that they are purely administrative matters, and, therefore, not really his responsibility. But no matter what he says, the record is clear. “ Hansard “ contains the record of the speech of the Minister for Air last night, in which twice in a few minutes he said that “ since last July “ - those were his words - £600,000 worth of licences had been cancelled because of abuses of the nature referred to. If that is not an invitation to members on this side, of the House to say that this action took place in the last few weeks, what exactly does it mean?
.- The Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) seems to get himself further into the mire each time he speaks on this particular subject, but I can assure him that personal attacks on members of the Labour Party, and attempts to smear them in any way, are not going to deter us from doing our public duty. It seems rather strange that although the Minister talks about members of the Opposition making certain allegations, he has to be dragged into the ring when we refer to the statements of his own colleague, Mr. Thorby, to which reference was made last evening. There is no doubt in the world as to what his colleague said - a member of his own party, a former member of this House, and a former Minister. Mr. Thorby said that the system of import licensing in this country is the most corrupt in the world. Mr. Thorby also said that he was advised by certain Country Party Ministers - and there are not many of them in this Cabinet - that the system is putrid. Those are the terms used by Mr. Thorby. Now the Minister for Trade tries to get around the issue by saying, “ Oh, well, Mr. Thorby was noted in this Parliament for his intemperate language”, or words to that effect. He said that Mr. Thorby blew his top, as the saying goes, because he wanted the Minister to see an applicant for a licence and, said the Minister, “ Since I have been Minister it has been my practice not to see applicants for licences, nor by ministerial direction to have licences granted “.
The significance of the Minister’s words is: He has not been the only Minister who has administered import licensing in this country. He is trying to smear his predecessors because, when he says “ Since I have been Minister”, the inference is that those who preceded him as Minister have personally interviewed applicants and have granted licences by ministerial direction.
The Minister has dodged this issue, but a question will be placed on the noticepaper, and he will have to give some sort of reply to it. I want to know whether it is a fact that since the introduction of import licensing applicants have been interviewed by Ministers, and licences have been issued by ministerial direction. The Minister attempted to imply in his speech that the only people who got licences were those who had been previously engaged in the import trade. He tried to qualify that a little at question time to-day. I want to tell the Minister now that it is a well-known, fact that one particular gentleman operating in Sydney has received licences for hundreds of thousands of pounds worth . of. goods. That is his quota. He was never! in the importing business. If the Minister as prepared to produce the files, the evidence will be there for any member to see. This man is to-day in business trafficking in these import licences, with great advantage to himself.
Now let me turn to the Thiess Brothers case. We have heard a little about Thiess Brothers in recent times in this House, because it was suggested, and certainly’ with a great amount of evidence to support the suggestion, that Thiess Brothers actually had a paid lobbyist in this House watching its interests - and probably had more than one. The firm evidently has a pretty nice tie-in with the Government. Thiess Brothers were bringing to this country two barges loaded with American jeeps and other equipment. The barges were almost into Australian waters at a stage when no licence had been granted for the importation of the equipment. The Sydney office of the department - and this will all be on record - would not recommend the issue of a licence. The matter was referred to Mr. Meere, the Comptroller-General of Customs at Canberra. Mr. Meere supported his officers in Sydney and would not approve of the licence Then the licence was issued to Thiess Brothers by ministerial direction.
Surely when these things are well known in the business community there ought to be some investigation. I read out here last night details of the cases of particular companies which had made most serious charges in regard to the administration of import licensing. The Government, without calling on those people to prove their charges, without giving them an opportunity to prove their charges, issued licences to them in order to stifle criticism of the administration of the system. That seems to me to savour of some manipulation. I hope that we will get the investigation we are seeking.
It is a well-known fact in Sydney that people who’ apply for import licences, and whose applications are rejected, are visited the following day, or shortly afterwards, by a’ person who is prepared to talk business with them and who can meet their licence requirements at a high percentage of profit to himself. In some cases the profit is 25 per cent., and it goes, I believe, even as high as 50 per cent.
Let us turn to the question of whether there have been malpractices here. No matter how the Minister tries to escape by distorting the meaning of the words used, what the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) said is perfectly true. The record of the. words used by the Minister for Air is in the “Hansard” of this Parliament, and that Minister said that since last July £600,000 worth of licences have been cancelled. ‘ That does not indicate that everything is all right in the department. These gentlemen talk about protecting the public servants in this department. No member of the Labour Party has made an allegation that all the men handling this matter are crooked and corrupt. However, if some of these licences are being wrongly issued, if there are people in the department engaged in manipulating the administration of the licensing system in a way to give a benefit to certain people, then, even if the people concerned in the department are only few in number, is it not proper and correct to protect the honest members of the Public Service by having a proper investigation? If wrongdoing is discovered, punish those responsible for it and clear the reputations of the great majority of the workers in the department
In the few moments that remain at my disposal, let me give an extraordinary case. It is not a case of malpractice. It is a case of a firm - an honest trader - being victimized by this Government. Evidently it is not one of those to whom the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) referred, and who know the right people. The firm, the Flexible Shaft Machinery Company (Australia), had an import licence since import licensing commenced in this country - since it had been in business. The firm received a letter quite recently from its import agents. It is a rather interesting letter, because it states -
We have been advised by the Collector of Customs, Sydney, that the present quota held by you for the importation of flexible shafting under item156 has been cancelled.
However, a new quota will be established on basis of the total imports in the period 1.7.57 to 30.6.58 plus 15 per cent. Unfortunately you had no imports in that particular period and therefore ineligible for a new quota. For future imports, individual applications will have to be made to the Department of Trade, Import Licence Branch, who will treat the applications on their merits.
The reasons why this firm did not have imports in that particular period are set out in a letter which the company directed to the Minister himself. It stated that for the period from 1st July, 1956, to 30th June, 1957, its imports were valued at just under £5,000; from 1st July, 1957, to 30th June, 1958, its imports were nil; and from 1st July, 1958, to 30th June, 1959, the value of its imports was only £904. The reason its imports were down in that period was that it had some stock accumulated that it reprocessed and some stock that it had been able to get from another firm engaged in the same type of business, but which was going out of business. Consequently, the Flexible Shaft Machinery Company did not need imports.
It was an honest firm and did not do what it told me it could quite easily have done, that is, sold its licence and made its quota available to some other firm and received a profit on it. But the firm did not use its licence. It allowed the licence to be cancelled. The firm had acted honestly, but the department stepped in and because a new quota had been fixed the firm could get no imports. This small but active Australian firm has been in existence for a number of years and it is now faced with extinction. The Minister acknowledged my. letter on 4th. August last, and informed me that this matter was being referred to the Department of Trade for full investigation.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I wish to bring to the notice of honorable members a matter which, I am sure, will establish no precedent in this House. It has probably been raised in similar form many times, but so far as I am concerned, it cannot be raised often enough. The case I shall mention is one of what I consider to be most unjust treatment meted out by the Postmaster-General’s Department - it could have been any other department - due, I understand, to a provision of the Public Service Act.
It is a case of unjust treatment to a girl named Judith Barnes of Cordelia, near Halifax in north Queensland. Her history is as follows: At the age of seven years she contracted polio and spent three years in hospital. In spite of that, and having to wear a leg iron at the age of fourteen years, she got a particularly good pass in her scholarship examination. At the age of sixteen years she passed the Junior examination at well above average for the State. Prior to her leaving school a vocational guidance officer who visited the school suggested that she might set her heart towards clerical work or some other work of that nature in the Public Service. This girl was keen to become a schoolteacher, but because of her previous affliction she acknowledged the fact that she would not be acceptable for that profession.
The girl then became keen to become a telephonist and she applied for a temporary job in that capacity. She was appointed a temporary telephonist at Halifax about 3 or 4 miles from Cordelia in about the third week of December, 1958. Since that date, from all the information I have been able to gather, she has been carrying out her duties in a most efficient manner.
On 14th February last, Miss Barnes sat for an examination to qualify for permanent appointment as a telephonist. This examination was conducted on a State-wide basis, and she gained the highest marks for the
State.. About the time she sat. for thisexamination, she received a letter- from thePublic Service Board asking her whether she would accept an appointment as a clerk-typist in Townsville, Brisbane or any other centre. She declined because of the fact that she appeared to be quite settled in the job she had taken as a temporary telephonist. She was very keen about it and the advantages of working close to h?r home were quite apparent.
About May of this year, Miss Barnes waacalled before a medical officer for theexamination required by the department to satisfy the conditions in the Public Service Act for permanent appointment. I feel sure that any doctor would testify that this girl is quite capable of carrying out her duties as a telephonist efficiently, but of course, the doctor reported on her leg condition caused by her previous affliction. She can walk about quite well, and I understand she very often walks the 3 or 4 milesto Halifax despite her leg iron. However, shortly afterwards she received a letter from the superintendent of the personnel department stating that because of the medical report her application had been rejected.
– This is the way the Government helps physically-handicapped people!
– I do not think this matter calls for an attempt to gain political advantage.
– lt calls for justice.
– Certainly. I particularly direct attention to the last paragraph of this letter, which is pretty cold, callous comfort to a girl like Judith Barnes. The paragraph reads -
For this reason your appointment dated 30/3/S9 has been cancelled -and your name removed from the list of successful candidates at the examination.
The truth of this matter, Mr. Speaker, is that this girl is still efficiently doing the job in a temporary position as a telephonist, and I feel sure that the departmental officers at Townsville and Halifax would testify that she is most efficient. I understand that she is being asked to continue in that job until some other girl with the necessary or suitable medical qualifications can be found. In fact, even after the new appointee arrives, it is quite likely that
Judith Barnes will be asked to stay on for a month to train the new comer.
I believe that Judith Barnes represents many thousands of children throughout the length and breadth of this country who are capable of doing this job and other similar jobs, who are earnestly keen to work and who, in spite of their handicaps - through absolutely no fault of their own - have a desire to prove self-supporting and not have to make application for some form of social service benefit. For girls living, as Judith Barnes does, in relatively isolated small country villages, and having a physical disability, the opportunities for employment there are few indeed. I believe’ that a girl like this should be allowed to remain in the position she now occupies - ^certainly when she is efficient, and certainly until some decision is made on the Boyer report.
Judith Barnes is not worried about superannuation. All she is keen about is to work and live and earn her own way like other people. I repeat that I believe that Judith Barnes represents many thousands of children affected similarly. I suggest that we should all acquaint ourselves properly with that section of the Boyer report which deals with the employment of physically-handicapped persons and hope that it will be very urgently implemented.
The type of treatment meted out to this girl is wrong. The method by which she was temporarily employed and many months later medically examined and told that she was unfit for the job is wrong - completely wrong. In fact, I believe that the whole manner in which this type of case is handled is a stain on our social conscience.
.- The case that has been mentioned by the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Murray) is one that certainly evokes sympathy and deserves consideration. I hope that the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) who is present in the chamber will assure the House that matters raised by honorable members during adjournment discussions will be sympathetically considered, but J cannot assure the honorable member for Herbert that the Government will take any more notice of his representations than it has taken of representations made by honorable members on this side of the House. The honorable member for Herbert has the advantage of being a member of one of the Government parties, and I suggest to him that he should raise this issue at his own party meeting and stand up a few of the Ministers there. He could well complain to a few of his Ministers about it. He has exonerated the PostmasterGeneral and has said that it is probably all attributable to the Public Service Act, but if it affects the department to any extent - and it probably does - it should be raised at a joint party meeting and the Postmaster-General, or some one else, asked what is to be done about it.
– What is wrong with the honorable member raising it here?
– He is only sham-fighting. He should take it up with his own party, which is in government.
– As the honorable member for East Sydney points out, there are other ways in which these matters can be attended to much more effectively. Handicapped people should be treated properly. The recommendations on the employment of physically handicapped persons contained in the Boyer report should have been implemented long since. If necessary the recommendations could be adopted piecemeal while, perhaps, major portions of the report continued to receive consideration. The recommendations on this aspect would meet with the approval of almost every one. They make such a strong appeal to human sentiment that they should be implemented without delay. Handicapped people are working in other departments. Some were given permanent status during the war. There is no reason in the world why the Postmaster-General’s Department should have one standard and other departments another. I hope that the honorable member will receive at an early date a satisfactory reply on the case that he has brought to the attention of the House to-night.
I wish to refer again to a publication called “ Teens To-day “, which I mentioned here a fortnight ago. I thought that I had made it clear that a publication called “ New Youth “ was my justification for raising the matter here. Anything that I said about the K. G. Murray Publishing Company stealing and purloining material was based on what I had read in that publication. However, in fairness to the K. G. Murray Publishing Company, the managing director of which I have known for many years - he was a pressman in this Parliament twenty years ago - I want to read a letter that he sent me a few days after the event. I had first received a telegram. This is incorporated in the letter, which reads:
I refer to your statement with regard to our company in the House of Representatives last week. We regret that this statement gave a most unfair impression of the company’s activities. The use of the words “ stole “ and “ purloined “ in your reference to Teens Today is not justified by the facts, and we can only conclude that this information was given to you by an informant who was careless of the truth, and with the knowledge that parliamentary statements are privileged.
I interrupt the quotation to say that I sent a copy of the publication concerned to this gentleman, so no question of privilege arises. My correspondent continues -
We sent you a telegram in the following terms - You have been quoted in press as stating Teens Today purloined or stolen by this company. This is incorrect as Teens Today is published in Australia with full authority of Macfadden Publications Incorporated whose name appears on the imprint.
Your further reference to other magazines issued by the company was, no doubt, an expres sion of a personal opinion.
On that occasion I referred to “ Man “ and other such publications which I regard as being so much filth, and which I wish were never published in this country. The writer continues -
The K. G. Murray Publishing Company is a substantial company with a high Stock Exchange and commercial rating, which, in the twenty-three years of its establishment, has done a great deal for Australian publishing and for Australian writers, artists and technicians. It employs 250 people, and since the war it has paid out nearly a quarter of a million pounds to writers and artists over a wide field of publishing enterprise. The magazines of the Company have set high standards of production which have enabled some titles to achieve a circulation outside Australia. Mostof the best known writers in Australia have been represented in the pages of the Company’s magazines.
– Under noms de plume.
– I think that Mr. Smith elaborates on that point a little later. I read further -
The K. G. Murray Publishing Company is, in fact, the largest purchaser of Australian literary material outside the metropolitan newspaper companies. It is also the largest paper user outside the daily newspapers, and its purchases of materials make it also one of the largest indirect employers of labour in the graphic arts field.
I enclose for your perusal some of the titles issued by the company. They are: -
All those titles originated in Australia.
I think you will agee that your statement to the House was, in the circumstances, unjust in its’ general application to the company, and in the interests of fairness, you might be willing to make a further statement to the House.
That is a fair enough letter and, because I thought that it ought to go into “ Hansard “, I have read it. I have been a subscriber to a number of the publications mentioned, and consider them to be of excellent standard. In fact, I compliment the company on its great work in encouraging genuine Australian artists and writers, and also upon building up a very fine publishing house in Australia. However, though the company may produce 95 per cent. good material the other 5 per cent. is filth. I wish that it would concentrate on the good things it is doing and forget the other side. It should remember Shakespeare’s words -
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.
I have no wish to withdraw anything that I have said about “ Teens today “. I am sorry that the company continues to defend that kind of thing. Even if it bad the permission of Macfadden Publications Incorporated to use it the material was changed. The dollar signs in the photographs were wiped out and the names of the characters in this rather salacious piece of literature were changed to make it appear that it was the result of a gallup poll among Australian boys and girls on the problems of sex. To that exent - and that is the major part of my complaint - it was a reflection upon Australian youth. It may have been justi-. fied in the United States - and based upon facts obtained there - but I doubt even that. It gave a wrong idea of the attitude of young people in this country. It could give a wrong idea of the moral standards of Australian youth and was therefore most objectionable. I hope that what I have said to-night, as well as what I have said over the years about such publications - 10 which many Australian people offer such great objection - will bear some fruit. 1 have a rather liberal outlook in regard to most things. Usually I do not care what people read, but 1 do not like to see published anything that could affect the moral standards of youth. Some of the publications that are being imported, or produced locally, display a low style of writing. This degrading stuff, which is allowed in by the Department of Customs and Excise, appears on the bookstalls. Parents sometimes take the books home and they may fall into the bands of children before they can be read. Parents are appalled that these things can be displayed on bookstalls and bought in all good faith. The titles are misleading and it is often not until one is half-way through that one finds the book going down into the depths. Apparently that kind of writing appeals to the authors as well as to certain people who buy the books.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I want to refer for a few moments to the question of import licensing, which was mentioned in the House earlier. A good deal has been said by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) and the honorable member for Fast Sydney (Mr. Ward) about the cancellation of £600.000 of quota, or licences, which took place since July of last year - ov»;r a period of fourteen months.
– You mean since July last.
– I know what appears in “ Hansard “. According to “ Hansard “ I said “ since July last “. I do not want to quarrel with “ Hansard “ as a correct record of what is said. But the important question is: What was the period? The period was since July of last year. That is the period thai I had in mind when I was speaking, and that is the period to which I think I referred. I have in my hand a note in my own handwriting that 1 wrote last night for my own guidance. It reads -
Quota or licences to £600,000 have been cancelled by Customs since July last year.
As this matter has been raised in this debate, I have had it checked again to-night by telephone with the senior customs officer who sils with the advisory appeals board to which 1 referred last night. There is no doubt about it whatever. The period over which some £600,000 worth of quota or licences have been cancelled is the period since July, 1958, a period of about fourteen months.
The only other point to which 1 wish torefer is the fact that the honorable member for Yarra and the honorable member for East Sydney have tried to suggest to the House that this is some novel and surprising disclosure. If that were the case, why would the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) have announced on 2 1 st April this year that he had set up the Import Licensing Advisory Appeals Board simply for the purpose of enabling importerswhose quotas or licences had been cancelled by the Customs Department, and who felt that they had been wrongly dealt with, to appeal against the departmental, decisions? The Minister made his statement in the Senate on 21st April, so that disposes of any suggestion of novelty in my statement last night.
.- A short time ago the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) said that the Australian LabourParty was in a mess. Let us have a look, at the great mess that the Australian Country Party is in. Only last week wc saw for the first time in history, a victory for the Australian Labour Party in the New South Wales electorate of Lismore. This victory illustrates two points, first, u vote of confidence in the Labour Government of New South Wales which is led by Joe Cahill, and secondly, the growing, unpopularity of the Australian Country Party.
In company with several of my colleagues in this chamber and in another place, I was privileged to take part in the by-election campaign in Lismore. After talking with many business people and workers in Lismore and Ballina, and with banana-growers and dairy men in the outer areas, I was convinced that the people in this electorate have thoroughly had the Country Party and are sick and tired of the representation they have been receiving in the New South Parliament. To make matters worse, Mr. Easter, the previous Country Party member for Lismore, in an election speech in one of the main streets of Lismore, brought personalities into the campaign and reflected on the age of Mr. Gollan who was previously a Minister in the New South Wales Government. Mr. Easter said that Mr. Gollan was too old at 74 to hold office. 1 remind the House that the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) who is nearly 80 years of age, is now on his honeymoon overseas. He may be better than Mr. Gollan physically, but that would be due only to the fact that he is a medical practitioner and has access to the latest methods of rejuvenation. It is understandable that perhaps he is better than Mr. Gollan physically.
It was interesting to see the honorable member tor Richmond (Mr. Anthony) speaking in support of Mr. Easter. A few weeks ago in Canberra I saw Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra doing the quick step with the honorable member tor Richmond. After listening to him in Lismore, I am satisfied that he is a much better side-stepper than a quick stepper because the things he said in Lismore were completely irrelevant to both Federal and State issues. He misrepresented the position by referring to proposals which he knew very well could not be implemented by a State government. For example, he said that margarine production in New South Wales should be limited. But he failed to tell the people that even if it were limited, or even eliminated in New South Wales, it could be imported from another State without restriction because of the provisions of section 92 of the Constitution.
Why was margarine first produced in Australia? The spiralling inflation that has resulted from this Government’s policies forced margarine onto the market so that pensioners would have something to put on their bread. Does any honorable member expect the pensioners to pay 4s. 7d. per lb. for butter when they can buy margarine for 2s. 6d. or 2s. 8d. per lb.? Whose fault is it that margarine is on the market? It is this Government’s fault!
Let us now look at the great unity in the Australian Country Party. Mr. Jordan, a prominent member of the Country Party in New South Wales, has had it. He: represents the electorate of Oxley. He has resigned from the Country Party to join the Liberal Party - he is going from bad to worse. Then we read in the “Sydney Morning Herald “ a few weeks ago - and it has not been denied - that the Minister for Trade intends shortly to leave the Country Party and join the Liberal Parly. He, too, wants to go from bad to worse. I understand that the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Murray) was elected on Country Party endorsement. I am sure that after coming to this House and seeing the drones with whom he has to sit, he also would like to join the Liberal Party. The Minister for Trade has said that the Australian Labour Party is in a mess. Surely there could be no greater mess than the mess in Gunn’s Gully on my left.
Now let us consider whether members of the Country Party use the products -trot they urge other people to use. They-say that we should use more wool, but nearly all of them wear rayon ties and sox, and cotton underwear. 1 think only two of them take milk in their tea; yet these are the people who say that we should .use more dairy products and more primary products generally! Why do they not practise what they preach?
Let us now look at another matter th.it affects the Country Party very seriously. Every one knows that it is a dying party. That is evidenced by the fact that it ha« lost the most important portfolio in the Government, the Treasury. Apparently the previous Treasurer, after being doublecrossed by his friends who had promised him the position of Chairman of the Commonwealth Banking Corporation, refused to come to Canberra to swap a few yarn* and have a few drinks with Government supporters at the royal ball. When he was in Parliament, Sir Arthur Fadden was revered by all members of the Country Party. They pleaded with him not to resign. They said, “ Do not resign, Artie, whatever you do, because we are afraid that we will go to pieces “. That is exactly what has happened to the Country Party to-day.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.30 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
m asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
How many live artist shows have been presented at the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord, since the weekly performances ceased on the 27th April, 1958?
– 1 am advised by the Minister for Repatriation that there have been no live artist shows presented at the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord, since the weekly performances ceased on 27th April, 1958. The Minister advises that this does not represent a ban on this type of entertainment and at any time v/hen a suitable live artist show is available for presentation at the hospital the Deputy Commissioner of Repatriation in New South Wales will be pleased to give consideration to having it staged. He also indicates that the entertainment needs of the patient at the institution are being filled by the provision of television programmes, radio, cinema, band recitals, bowls, tennis and other amenities.
r asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Repatriation has advised as follows: - 1. (a) Repatriation General Hospital, Hollywood, (b) Edward Millen Home, Victoria Park. 2. (a) Repatriation General Hospital, Hollywood - approximately 29 acres, (b) Edward Millen Home, Victoria Park - approximately 17 acres 3 roods, 8 perches.
t asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
n asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
Were the rights sold to Sixteen Millimetre Aust. Proprietary Limited, of 49 Market-street, Sydney, and is the company a subsidiary of the
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1, 2 and 3. No.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 September 1959, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1959/19590917_reps_23_hor24/>.